Cardhu 11 (56%, OB, Special Release, 2020, L0120CM004)

When I think of Cardhu, or Cardow as it was used to be called, I always remember the fond memories first. The official 22yo, a special release from 2005 was really good. So Cardhu is indeed able to make a Whisky worth noting. Sure, a lot of Cardhu is sold around the world, which doesn’t automatically mean it is very good. It can be, but often it is not. In the core range we have a 12yo, a 15yo and a 18yo, as well as “Amber Rock” and “Gold Reserve”. The Game of Thrones is a variant of the Gold reserve, and let’s not forget the Special Cask reserves which ran somewhere between 2007 and 2012. Most of these I have tried and none of them scored 80 points or higher. (I have yet to try the 18yo and the GoT edition, and surely the 18yo should be able to score in the 80 point range, don’t you think?). For Master Quill, I tried the 2010 Special Cask Reserve and that was a rather disappointing experience. I have tried some Cardhu from the 70’s, and even at 8yo and 43% ABV Cardhu could really rock. So even with this wonky reputation, I was really pleased to see a cask strength 14yo pop up as a special reserve in 2019 (and again in 2021), as well as this 11yo in 2020. This 11yo, was offered at a special price for a short while, and not having bought a Cardhu in a long long time, (and really digging the label), I went for it…

Color: White Wine

Nose: Malty, bread-like (toast), a bit waxy and with some yeast. Clean and fresh otherwise. Citrussy. Quite fruity actually, slightly sweet, with more of the (sugary) barley notes. Slightly milky, which to me is a note of underdevelopment. Luckily this note seems to dissipate after a while. Yellow fruit jam. Very friendly. Soft hints of wet wood, toasted oak and wet earth, combined with some mocha. Leafy and green. This is a lively and friendly Whisky. Floral perfume and slightly soapy. You’d imagine your grandmother liking this (if she drinks anything else beyond tea). Slightly dusty, with a tiny hint of heavily diluted apricot and peach syrup,as well as some (new) cardboard. Sometimes faint notes of a sweet White Wine crop up. As said above, this Malt has a (milky) youth to its nose, which is somewhat masked when you have it by itself (it is noticeable right before the fruity bit kicks in, and definitely more noticeable when the bottle was freshly opened). If you pour yourself another dram before or after this, this milky youth becomes apparent still. So, in the end, this Malt is fruity and floral and the two go together quite well in this Cardhu. This promises to be a highly drinkable Malt, lets see if that is the case here.

Taste: Sweet and peppery. Waxy, very, very fruity, fatty and nutty. Appetizing. Sometimes, this reminds me a bit of Bladnoch, but the fruit sets it apart. The nose does have this greenish note to it, lacking though on the palate. Dry compressed fruit powder candy, as well as canned syrupy yellow fruits. Peaches in sweet yoghurt. Again in the vicinity of the fruity aroma, this Malt also shows its youth here. Showing some slightly underdeveloped notes. The wet wood from the nose is here as well, complete with a slight bitter edge. This is not a problem at all, since the syrupy sweetness quickly takes care of any bitterness, although the feeling of a woody backbone remains. The wood morphs a bit into cold dishwater. Sounds worse than it actually is. Interesting combination of yellow fruits, (stingy) white pepper and the tiniest hint of sweet licorice. Chalk and fruit. Supple juicy fruit aroma’s with quite some alcohol, yet with a dry and chalky feel to it. Fruity sweetness and licorice in the finish and a tasty and warming aftertaste with quite some length.

This is a morning Malt to be had by itself. It is at its best by itself, because it is quite a good Malt, when it’s not compared to anything that might follow. Nevertheless be warned that this doesn’t have a morning ABV to match the feel of this Malt. Apart from that, this is quite a nice Cardhu to boot, with quite some balance to it as well. However, for me personally, it also shows a sort of underdeveloped side of itself, keeping me from scoring it even higher than I did. It is very good and very nice, just has some minor flaws to it. Still, one of the best official Cardhu’s I have tasted. A good buy and it went pretty fast, always a good sign.

Points: 87

Lagavulin 2006/2021 “Distillers Edition” (43%, OB, lgv.4/510)

Precisely one year ago (with one day to spare), I reviewed the Lagavulin Distillers edition that was bottled in 2018. Just recently this 2021 version came into my hands as part of a bottle share I did with friends. This particular bottle was a three way split, and yes it does keep the costs down, but also 1/3 rd of a bottle is really not all that much, so bottles like these have to be quickly reviewed before it is gone. Earlier reviews of Lagavulin Distillers Editions should show you this is sort of a fan favourite and at 43% a very drinkable affair as well. The quality of these being usually quite high and thus often eclipses the newer releases like the 8yo, the 9yo (Game of Thrones), the 10yo and the 11yo (Offerman Edition). Prices are steadily rising as well, and in some markets the Distillers Editions are quite expensive already, but what luxury good isn’t these days…

Color: Copper orange gold (caramel coloured).

Nose: The soft peat comes out first, along with a fresh citrussy and medicinal note, as well as some dish-water and almonds, a funky combination. Fatty, waxy and quite creamy, fruity as well. Soft overall. Chewy and toffee-like, thus sweet with some smoke, fruity in general and hints of toasted bread (with Nutella) and stale bread crumbs. Minty chocolate. This edition seems softer and more friendly than some other editions, like the 2018 edition. The 2018 edition had quite some iodine right up front, which seems to be lacking here, or is much more subdued, in this 2021 edition. This 2021 has many traits of PX (the second maturation), so I guess the PX plays a bigger role in this particular edition. more hints of cold dishwater and now paper (old fragrant cardboard). Overall quite sweet smelling, making it a more toned down version, softer, “rounder” and less Islay. After a while, a more prickly bit of smoke comes to the front. Licorice and Bassett’s Allsorts are noticeable all way through the entire nose. Nice balance (in the nose). However what I will remember most from this 2021 edition is how it smells of the promise of sweetness. Sugared cherries, toffee and PX. Maybe in this particular edition they used somewhat more caramel colouring? Most aroma’s seem to be glued together, which is something caramel colouring can do to a Whisky. I have to keep this in mind when tasting…

Taste: Quite sweet on entry, watery (thin), yet warming going down. Ashy with again quite some licorice and vanilla and some more ashes. Crushed beetle (got that in the nose as well). The PX sweetness is quite cloying and makes up this 2021 Distillers Edition. Toffee and wine gums. A bit too sweet I guess (for a Lagavulin DE). Chewy smoke, yet all slightly unbalanced (on the palate). As in the nose, the taste is homogenized by the addition of caramel colouring. I’m not sure, but I’ve never had as much of this in a Lagavulin DE, as in this one, just keep in mind I haven’t got around (yet) to taste all of them. After a while, oak, toasted cask and the licorice and smoke break right through the cover of sweetness. A bit of an unexpected fruity aftertaste and a minty feel stays behind in the centre of my tongue.

This one is definitely bigger and sweeter than the Offermann Edition. The Offermann seems more refined and is overpowered by the sweetness of this Distillers Edition, so I wouldn’t recommend trying both head to head. What is noticeable though is that 46% is a much better ABV than 43%, I hope, but I don’t think it will ever happen, to have the Distillers Edition @ 46% ABV as well (and again some more Lagavulin and some less PX). The balance got a bit tipped this time around. Definitely not my favourite expression of all Lagavulin Distillers Editions, although it still is a tasty bugger. In the end, the 2021 Distillers Edition scores exactly the same as the Game of Thrones Edition, and to be fair, I’ve had quite some (unexpected) fun with that one as well. So in this case, I would suggest to pick up the Game of Thrones Edition instead of the 2021 Distillers Edition, since the former costs quite a bit less. A lot of other editions of the Distillers Editions are definitely better than the aforementioned Games of Thrones Edition though, just have a look at the 2018 Edition or especially the 2002 Edition. Not all Distillers Editions are created equal. Amen to that.

Points: 86

Ardmore 20yo 1996 (49.3%, OB, 1st Fill Bourbon and Ex-Islay casks, L817757B)

Sometimes Ardmore can be quite stellar. Once, I even wrote that it has the potential to be the new Brora. Back then, there weren’t any plans to reopen Brora, so today probably Brora itself has more potential to be the new Brora than Ardmore. However, the owners of Ardmore don’t do a lot with this Malt and most independent bottlers, bottle Ardmore at quite a young age. Why is that? In comes this official 20yo. I immediately bought two of those, guided by my own statement and hoping for, (expecting), the best. As I said, Ardmore can be great, and this one has some pretty decent age to it and a nice ABV to boot.

When I opened this bottle, it was very much closed and stayed like that for a long, long, and even longer, time. I even left the cork off for several days, and still it wouldn’t budge, bumming me out. Disappointing and annoying, and along the way it never really became a favourite of mine. I usually wait until the bottle is half full/half empty to write a review so that the Whisky had a chance to grow with air and over time. This bottle is now 1/3rd full, and still I’m not sure how it really is. I usually can remember Whiskies I tasted a decade ago, but every time I return to this Ardmore, I haven’t got a clue how it actually is. This is really a difficult one. So for some reason or another, I once tasted it in the morning et voilà, there is more to this in the morning, than in the evening with a tired palate. This is a delicate morning Whisky, with the emphasis on delicate, so I had to write some things down in a wee morning session! How unusual (and how nice actually).

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Quite fruity, with already a little hint of smoke and slightly rubbery peat. Very nice combination of old style, yellow half-dried fruits and wax. Whiffs of old style Malt yet sometimes also a whiff with a lack of balance, a strange or less well integrated fruity bit. Luckily this phenomenon doesn’t happen on every occasion. Quite light as well. Fruity sugared pineapple, shiny apple skins. Mocha with walnuts, hazelnuts in whipped cream. More of the nice waxy note comes forth and still it knows how to improve over time with more airing in the glass. This Malt really is dependent on air, it needs truckloads of it. This is therefore not an easy Malt. You really have to work at it a lot to get everything out, and don’t be fooled, this really has quite a lot more than meets the eye (?) initially. The waxy bit interacts quite well with a nice and soft woody note (American oak style), especially when the little bit of smoke somewhat stings the insides of your nose. The waxy bit finds a companion in some clay. After a while, good balance is reached as well at the end of the development. It just suddenly stops giving off new layers. Hardly any alcoholic notes in the nose, seems lower than the 49.3% ABV. With a lot of time and air, this nose does deliver. Quite wonderful.

Taste: Soft and creamy. Somewhat sweet vanilla and diluted whipped cream. Do I detect some faint notes of strawberry ice-cream? The sensation of cream with a little bit of water. Fruity yes and even the peat from part of the casks is noticeable. Prickly smoke on the sides of my tongue. Waxy and peaty. Almonds? After a while the oak starts to show more and more of itself, along with its bitterness, yet it never really overpowers. For twenty years, this has been in contact with wood alright. All of this, not in the greatest of balances to be honest. Also somewhat simpler than I would have expected from Whisky of this age. Lacking the complexity of a 20 year old malt, as well as the development. The finish is medium at best, actually quite short, whit a decent and warming aftertaste though. Very delicate stuff. Brittle, apart from the wax and the wood.

Technically, this must have been one of the most delicate Whiskies I have ever tried (when also analysing it). This one has managed to learn me something. You can sip your way through a bottle over a prolonged period of time in the evening and essentially having no clue what the Whisky really had to offer. Just this freak accident to have a sip in the morning, showed me that there is a lot more to this Ardmore. Treat this as a morning Whisky. Still, perfect it is not, not by a long shot. But hey, most of us usually sip our drams not-in-the-morning, so please take this into account. This is definitely not a casual sipper. Not bad at all, but should have been better than it actually is.

Points: 85

Arran “Batch 3” (51.5%, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, 728 bottles, 50 cl)

As a volume, 50 cl should be just enough, or some would say, barely enough. I do the occasional bottleshare with friends, and half of a full bottle (35 cl), well that’s actually not enough for me, I believe that 50 cl is the bare minimum of acceptability. Earlier, way back in 2015, I actually reviewed Batch 4 of Arran from the same bottler. I have to admit, I totally forgot about that one. When backtracking a bit on my own website, I just found my review of Batch 4, which gave me quite the scare, since in this case the review for Batch 3 came first, an this introduction was the last bit to write. Both Batch 3 and Batch 4 have the same label, and for a moment there I though I’d written a review of the same Whisky again. Fortunately I didn’t, even though it would have been quite interesting to compare both reviews. That would have been a happy accident. Just to be clear, I would have posted this review anyway. Since I don’t remember Batch 4 any more, I can’t compare both to each other, which is quite unusual for me, since I usually do remember almost all Whiskies I’ve tried.

Color: White Wine, quite pale.

Nose: This has it all, tropical fruits, barley, bread, barley sugar, milk chocolate, hint of vanilla and very soft wood. Leafy. Lively. Fresh and also sweet smelling. Toffee and wine gums, and sometimes a bit like a Rum, but also a nice fresh golden Beer and Gin. What a remarkable combination of smells. Also a tiny flinty and smoky note, coming from, I guess, the toasted oak. It’s not very woody though, although over time, some more soft (virgin) oak moves in. Besides the big fruitiness, it is also somewhat perfumy and somewhat sweaty. Not soapy, mind you, it just smells so friendly and nice. Hints of fresh air, cow pasture and paper, only adding to the complexity. It may hardly have a colour, and yet it is a NAS bottling, but in no way does it smell like a young or under-matured Whisky. Amazing how much is going on in this one. No off-notes whatsoever. Wonderful smelling Malt.

Taste: Sweeter than expected and fruity. Vanilla, toffee and mango ice cream. Much simpler than the nose was. Fresh and lemony. Cold dishwater with lemon detergent and almonds. Wood shavings and sawdust. Fresh oak playing a larger role here than it did on the nose. I can feel the bitterness on the back of my tongue already. Very tasty and well balanced yet less complex. In a way this is a winter warmer. Despite all the fruit it isn’t a sunny Malt. Nice warmth when descending down the pipe. After the fruit moves away, the aftertaste also has this slight bitter lingering note, and present as well (finally it’s there, I’ve been expecting it for quite some time now) a slight soapy feel. The finish itself is medium at best, it doesn’t have a great length, and even the aftertaste leaves quite quickly, hinting at some youth. Still, what this Malt is able to offer, despite its supposed youth, it is amazing. If only the taste was as good as the nose was, than you’d be amazed what I would have scored this.

I didn’t buy Arran for a very long time, after a plethora of very young and initial releases, some of which already were very good. (Remember the Champagne finishes?) Not by choice or prejudice though, it just fell under the radar somehow. I bought this Arran at auction by chance. I wanted to buy a Boutique-y bottle, placed several lowish bids on some of them, and this was the only only one nobody seemed to care for and I was never overbid. So after a while is was Arran time on my lectern, and I opened this one, and it is great. Unexpected. NAS, very pale, so I didn’t expect all that much to be honest, yet this is a very good Arran. So after having tried this one, I immediately scored me some more Arran’s at auction. After this Arran, I’m not so sure 50 cl is acceptable to me any more. I fear this will be gone too soon.

Points: 87

Mortlach 12yo 2008/2020 (56.8%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Bourbon Barrels #800110, #800126 & #800127, 710 bottles)

After the wonderful and very interesting Loch Lomond, let’s try another Whisky fully matured in ex-Bourbon casks. This time one that was distilled at Mortlach. Mortlach has quite the reputation with Whisky Aficionado’s and rightly so. For instance, Mortlach 16yo was arguably the best offering in Diageo’s once extensive Flora and Fauna Range. Having this niche popularity, Diageo decided to do something more with the brand that is Mortlach and discontinued the 16yo around 2012 in favour of a Rare Old (NAS, not rare nor old, 80 points), an 18yo and a 25yo (84 points). All in 500 ml bottles! These three were released in 2014 and replaced in 2018 by more common age statement versions: 12yo, 16yo (a magic age statement for Mortlach) and 20yo. All three now in 700 ml/750 ml bottles. Mortlach is known for its Whiskies matured in Sherry casks. The 16yo Flora and Fauna is an example of this, and I thought an offering by Wilson & Morgan was even better than that. No surprise then, this has matured in a Sherry cask as well. I also reviewed a Provenance Mortlach earlier, I suppose was matured in Ex-Bourbon wood, which was not so interesting, so let’s see if this Signatory Mortlach is any good, or we should stick to Sherried versions of Mortlach altogether.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Winey, clear glue, creamy and slightly acidic. Not your usual creamy vanillin kind of smell though. A moment later some more fruits emerge, as well as the creamy vanilla powder notes. Dusty and slightly smoky (probably from toasted oak, not peat). Hints of gravy and cold dishwater, and some soft sugared fruit notes. This is a big Malt, which already shows amazing complexity. Not a cloying smell, since a nice fruity acidity keeps playing its part. This is a Mortlach and Mortlach is a special distillate, and boy, does this smell special. For some this may be a simple kind of Whisky, just pour new make into Bourbon Barrels, mind you, they didn’t even turn those into hogsheads, lazy buggers, and job done, easy, simple, no hassle. Yet Mortlach in a Bourbon Barrel, comes out slightly different from Whiskies from other distilleries matured like this, there is always something different about Mortlach, richer, beefier, meatier, just bigger, special. It’s almost like the fatty acid chains are just longer with Mortlach (without becoming soapy). Hints of raspberry hard candy, next to the half-ripe yellow fruits. Just not as exotic as it can be in well matured Tomatin’s. However, keep in mind that this is only 12yo, and not 30yo like the Tomatin’s I just mentioned. I don’t even know why I brought that up, since Mortlach and Tomatin are very different from each other. So fruity it is, just not all that tropical.

Taste: Sweet and very, very nutty and fruity at the same time, much more fruity than expected actually. Some wood, more akin to pencil shavings than oak, to be honest. Including a slight harmless bitter note. Again, not cloying since the big body also has enough fruity acidity to help it along. Nice. What a wonderful start. Signatory have recently issued some Mortlach Sherry Monsters from the 2010 vintage, which are more or less the same age, but I can’t imagine those ones beating something like this. Licorice powder, some paper and some spices as well as a peppery backbone. Sometimes a sweet minty note pops up. Mocha, milk chocolate. Tastes like a dessert Malt now. Hints of hay, more paper and overall still quite complex. Nice finish and a long warm aftertaste, including the glue again, which you pick up on initially when smelling a freshly poured dram of this.

This is an excellent Mortlach that was not matured in a Sherry cask. Very big and tasty, with complexity and length. The quality is unmistakeable and this will please a lot of Whisky aficionado’s. Its a good example of the spirit of Mortlach and a good example of what “simple” American oak can do. The quality is right upfront, and easy to see for everyone. I scored the Loch Lomond from the previous review slightly higher than this Mortlach, but I also believe, that one might not be for everyone, and you can only find the true beauty of the Loch Lomond when you work it a bit. The Mortlach is more suitable for casual drinking, its always good. the Loch Lomond needs your full attention, otherwise it can be a grumpy old git and will Will-slap you across the face.

Points: 88

Loch Lomond 17yo Organic (54.9%, OB, First Fill Bourbon Casks, L2 120 18, 30.04.2018)

After all those unhealthy and environmentally unfriendly products we have been putting into our bodies, finally some Organic Single Malt Whiskies start to emerge onto the market sporadically. The first Organic Malt I reviewed on these pages was an Organic Bruichladdich, This Loch Lomond is just the second. I have checked my stash, but I could only find a 12yo Organic Loch Lomond and a 14yo and a 15yo Organic Deanston, and that’s about it, no more. I should investigate if there are some more to get. I know there were a few Springbanks and some (young) Benromachs, but beyond that, who knows? Apart from the Deanston’s, this is the only well aged one out there. I did some quick and dirty research, so don’t expect something very deep now, but Nc’Nean also has Organic Whisky in its portfolio, but after that, its mostly American made Whisk(e)y that is also organic. Quite surprising from the land of fast food and a huge overweight problem. Wall-e was no joke. And before you start sending me hate-mail, or even worse, Will Smith, I’m quick to add that I am overweight as well. The Organic Bruichladdich was young and simple, easy, yet tasty. Scored rather high, since it was a high quality Malt, but could have done with some more ageing. Well, if you are after a better aged Organic Malt, than a 17yo Loch Lomond is quite a step up! Yes Loch Lomond, ahhh no, please no, you’re not going to talk about a certain Captain now, don’t you? Well, OK, let’s not. I’ll finish off this introduction with the fun fact that this was distilled in a combination of a swan neck and a straight neck pot stills.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Barley, dusty and woody. Classic Bourbon casked Single Malt Whisky nose. Sure, we’ll throw in Organic as well, although I have no clue whatsoever how “Organic” is supposed to taste. Smells very clean and honest. Artisanal. A bit sweetish as well, resembling, bot only in a small part, a Grain Whisky. A nice combination of dust, wax and light citrus skin notes. Fruity and lively. In a way delicate and also a bit old skool. Soft wood, mocha and slightly spicy. Light smell of an old aired out, weathered, stock cube. All nice and well integrated. Better now than when freshly opened. Sometimes a short soapy whiff passes by. After a while in my glass even more balance is reached between a waxy note that got company from some peanuts and more fruits. By far, the best smelling Loch Lomond I ever had. You probably think it’s the only Loch Lomond I ever had, but this is not the case. Not at all. Especially nice when you are of an older generation, like me, and remember the old stuff filled from an Ex-Bourbon cask. A classic. The spicy notes in this nose are just excellent, especially when this is sniffed outside. Fresh air helps this one along quite a bit. Great stuff for sure.

Taste: Sweet on entry, The spicy notes from the nose are right up front here as well. Grassy and wonderful. Here it is a bit accompanied by some licorice. Creamy yet also a bit hot. A slight metallic note, reminding me of Tormore. In fact, if I would have tasted this one blind, I would have probably thought this was a Tormore. Tormore distillates in casks like these perform rather well IMHO. Similar spices too. Both this and such Tormore’s bring a smile to my face. These suit me very well, but that is a personal thing, and might not be true for you. Again, what an amazing balance this Whisky has. Nothing short of a must-have for me. Perfect for some quiet me time (and a book). After the first sip, the nose develops even more in the cavity of your mouth. Good quality stuff this one. Amazing, remember the times when Loch Lomond had this awful reputation, well they certainly managed to turn that around with this one. Well done! Medium body with all these wonderful woody, spicy and woody aroma’s. The ABV of almost 55% carries this Whisky beautifully. Really good stuff. Must find me another one.

This Whisky is very good. When consumed carelessly, often within a flight of other Whiskies, I didn’t pick up on the all the wonderful bits this Whisky has on offer. When reviewing it, it is usually reviewed on its own (on occasion H2H with another somewhat similar example for comparison). For obvious reasons, one tends to give the subject a lot of attention when reviewing. So, when this is given your full attention, this Whisky reveals a lot more than meets the eye at first. It deserves to have your full attention and you might also give it some time to breathe and you’ll be able to pick up on some delicate and wonderful old skool classy aroma’s. Recommended.

Points: 89

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

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

Color: Gold.

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

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

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

Points: 87

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

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

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

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

Color: Deep dark brown, slightly orange/red.

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

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

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

Points: 86

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

Lagavulin 11yo “Offerman Edition” (46%, OB, 750 ml, 2019)

If I would have written this review a bit earlier, than this particular review would have concluded the Lagavulin-prequel-quartet of the 8yo, 9yo, 10yo and this 11yo. However, just recently, yet another Offerman Edition has been released, this one finished in Guinness casks. Damn, now I have to find me that one as well, and just like the original Offerman Edition, this one isn’t destined for our European market. This Offerman is mostly US-only. They kept the new one at 11yo as well, because I suspect they wouldn’t dare on touching on (another) 12yo, as to not confuse the public too much with the annual cask strength version. This Offerman Edition is made with hand-picked Bourbon and rejuvenated Bourbon casks, in part by Offerman himself. Especially when you’re in Europe, you might wonder who this (Nick) Offerman is? Nick Offerman is an American Actor playing the role of Ron Swanson in the TV-series called “Parks & Recreation”, and Ron just loved Lagavulin (because Nick loves Lagavulin).

Color: Gold, lighter than the 9yo GoT version.

Nose: Wow, this has a mild, farmy, clay like start. Hay from healthy, fatty, full grown grass, making it somewhat different from the 8yo, 9yo and 10yo. Loving this. Otherwise, it does resemble the 9yo a bit. Just like I expected before reviewing the GoT Edition, this time again, I expected something more along the lines of the 8yo and 10yo, but with the 9yo already being quite the surprise, this one does even smell better. It smells a little bit like a…Brora! Man, if this tastes like it smells, please take my money now Diageo and thanks to you, Nick Offerman, for picking these casks! But wait a minute, let’s not get ahead of ourselves now. Iodine (and a tiny hint of chlorine as well) comes knocking on the door, especially when this gets some time to breathe in your glass. I suspect Nick especially sought out this Iodine. Old, wet wood spice. Slightly perfumy even. Tiny bonfire and a wee bit of prickly peat. This Malt has it all, including the underlying (candied) fruit. Wet iodine laden peat with salty seaside notes. The Broraness wears off and Lagavulin emerges some more, Lagavulin we know from the 16yo (which has Sherry) and especially the GoT edition. But the farmy bit that remains is still very nice, turning a bit meaty even. Not a lot of smoke any more. Dull vanilla powder, with still this zesty citrus note as well. Is there something like dry almond powder? Overall quite a soft edition, but one that works quite well. The GoT has slightly more of the creamy and buttery vanilla notes than the Offerman, but the bonfire notes are the same.

Taste: Starts as thin like the GoT, but this time with some crushed beetle and some fresh, slightly crushed almonds, and a very nice sweetish fruity bit. This one has even more of a licorice-peat note than the GoT. Fruity and appetizing, like cola on a hot day. It does have cola notes, hence the association. Almonds again and a wee bit of hot plastic. Warming and soft, so not this burning sensation when going down. This one has some sweetness as well, but definitely less so than the GoT. Slightly less complex than the nose, with seemingly less development. I like the lingering bonfire notes. It gives me a happy association, because who doesn’t like sipping a good Whisky when sitting and staring at a bonfire in the woods, or some pieces of wood in the fireplace.

This one turned out to be like a better variant of the GoT, but a variant of it nevertheless. Offerman offers us more than the GoT did, especially on the nose. Nice profile. Dear Nick, since you are a Lagavulin aficionado, why not pick some more casks like this, and bottle them at cask strength? Since this is Bourbon casks only, a fitting choice by an American if I may say so, it is more of a prequel to the 12yo, yet it is different in its profile. The empty glass (after a while), is iodine laden, where the empty glass of the GoT (the next morning) smells of peat and warm plastic. Looks like this (Iodine) is what Lagavulin and Nick went for.

Points: 87 (so the odd’s clearly beat the evens)

After the Offerman, I tried the GoT again, I find that there are a lot of similarities, but it is also lacking an entire (farmy) level. The Offerman is just a better and expanded version of the GoT. Tried it again and yes, the GoT is just simpler, still good, yet simpler. I haven’t seen Parks & Recreation yet, but I wonder if it’s also a better TV-series than GoT. Apart from some states in the US, this edition seems to be hardly available any more, thus prices are rising at auctions and the secondary market. Prices as I see today are such that even though this is a good Lagavulin, I can’t recommend it to you, because when taking the price into account, I believe you are better off with the 16yo and the Distillers Edition as well as the Game of Thrones version which turns out to be a very nice Lagavulin as well, is less expensive and more readily available. If you can spare the cash, please do buy it, because it’s another good Lagavulin differing from the others.

Lagavulin 9yo “Game of Thrones” (46%, OB, “House Lannister” L9016CM008, 2019)

For a Long time, Lagavulin was the unknown jewel in the crown of what is now Diageo, known to only a few. Lagavulin saw more recognition when it became part of the Classic Malts. Before that, Lagavulin was more or less only an utterly wonderful 12yo. Later came the also stellar 16yo and a nicely done Distillers Edition, again a very, very good version of this great distillery. Last of the newer regular releases the return of a 12yo, this time from Bourbon casks only and since 2002 bottled annually as a special release at cask strength. Some batches of these Whiskies have been reviewed on this site earlier.

Personally Diageo was taking a wrong turn starting with Talisker for me, with the release of a lot of mediocre (NAS) “versions”. I might have mentioned this already in several previous reviews, (Talisker is Diageo’s best selling Malt). The 10yo is still by far the best affordable Talisker, although it suffers sometimes of batch variation, just have a look at the following two more recent releases from 2015, and 2019. Incomparable to an earlier bottling from 2002. When NAS wasn’t all that accepted at first, Talisker tested out a rather young Malt, but gave it an age statement. The 8yo from 2018, is a very good Whisky, but the follow-ups from 2020 and 2021 are less so. Alas. I have tried them all, but have yet to review them here.

Back to Lagavulin. When Talisker was being taken advantage of (to up the sales), by all those aforementioned releases, Diageo left Lagavulin alone, at least for a while. Then all of a sudden in 2016 the 8yo and in 2019 the 10yo surfaced. In hindsight, both editions are gnawing away at the perfect reputation Lagavulin had (for me). Sure, both releases are not bad, especially the 8yo was acceptable (for a Lagavulin), but the downward spiral is easily noticeable. A disappointing and depressing feeling for me. Well, the time has come to look at the next one. Between the 8yo and the 10yo came a 9yo, bottled in 2018 in the Game of Thrones range, yeah because coupling up this Classic Malt with a TV-show makes sense now does it. And sure it does, from a business standpoint. I’m sure it’s making Diageo a lot of money and even selling more of the less popular Whiskies from the Diageo portfolio in the Game of Thrones series. Amazing how many people I know, have the whole range at home, some even got the GoT Johnny Walker editions. I respect the fact Diageo is in the business of making money and are not only aficionado’s. I’ve met several Diageo employees who have no clue what it is what they’re selling (but look the part and talk the talk) and only care about their monthly sales and what car they will be allowed to drive next. On the other hand I’ve also met several Diageo employees that are true aficionado’s and big ones as well! (This second group is usually a bit older than the first group).

Having said all that and with the experience I had with the 8yo and the 10yo, I’m not having high hopes for this 9yo, especially with the caramel colouring remark on the back label, but nevertheless here we go!

Color: Gold, slightly brownish.

Nose: Slightly sweet, with nice bonfire smoke and peat notes. Even some (dried) meaty notes crop up. Underneath, a little bit of fresh lemon skin acidity, as well as some menthos you are already chewing on. As always, the E150a cloaks the smell a bit, but also adds some artificial balance, as per design, although I also feel not a lot of colouring was needed for this one. Whiskies with lots of colouring tend to be dull and cloaked. But credit where credit’s due, this is a pretty good smelling Lagavulin. Nice and fresh. Since this is supposed to be first fill Bourbon casks only, is it really? Since it has this added caramel, it still has a decent spicy, ashy, waxy and fruity feel to it. On occasion, I even encounter some floral dishwater-detergent kind-of-job aroma. Spicy with some hot tar and smoking embers. Some molten plastic, clay, wood, some (burning) paper (and ashes), but some red fruit notes seem to point at Sherry, but no Sherry casks were used for this one. Yup, this is a very nice smelling Lagavulin. If the taste is on par with the nose, which has some classic Lagavulin traits to it, I’m in for a nice surprise.

Taste: Here it is a bit thinner than the nose promised. Sweet with obvious licorice and black and white powder right from the start, as well as the sweet lemon skin note from the nose. Smoky toffee. Here the caramel colouring seems to have a greater effect than it had on the nose. Nice chewy peat, nicely framed by some smoke. Waxy. Some cloaking caramel, and creamy, fatty hand ointment, but it’s also letting though some nice red fruity notes. Appetizing. Towards the finish the woody bits show some slight bitterness, fitting the rather large licorice profile quite well. However, for the profile it has it is actually a little bit too sweet. One glass of this on an evening is enough.

Well, this one is a bit of a surprise, I didn’t expect much of it to be honest, considering I’m not really a fan of the 8yo and especially the 10yo, as well as coupling it to a TV-show was a bit suspicious. The Talisker GoT was pretty decent as well. Nothing of the milky, new make-ish, youthful notes I got from both other mentioned Lagavulins. Maybe the E150a did some good here (yeah right, hahaha), or maybe the casks were just better (more likely). This would be a really really good Whisky if it was somewhat less sweet and bottled at a higher strength. Still, this was bottled at 46% ABV instead of the 43% ABV of some other Lagavulin releases. This is a review from a particular batch (L9016CM008) from 2019. I haven’t tried any others, so I can’t comment on batch variation, but there is always a chance that different batches have (slightly) different outcomes.

Points: 86