Paul John “Brilliance” (46%, OB, Batch 2, 2016)

Today the Paul John range of Whiskies has three entry-level Malts. The unpeated “Brilliance” of which I’m about to review batch #2 (released in 2016). The very lightly peated (8-10 ppm) “Edited” of which I already reviewed batch #1 way back in 2013. The lightly peated style is achieved by blending peated and unpeated Whisky. For Edited, Aberdeen & Islay peat was used. Both Brilliance and Edited were introduced in 2013. In 2015 the third expression was released, called “Bold”, where all Whisky used in the blend is peated. The names speak for themselves. Edited is a slightly tweaked version of Brilliance, tweaked with a little peat (8-10 ppm in the final product), and Bold is bolder in the use of peat (25-30 ppm in the final product). Where Edited contained Aberdeen & Islay peat, Bold is made with Islay peat only). When I wrote the last review, there was not a lot more Paul John around besides “Brilliance” and “Edited”. Back then only three single casks were issued (The P1’s).

Today the core range has more members than the original two. Apart from the addition of “Bold”, in come two more additions; The Classic Select Cask and the Peated Select Cask, both are cask strength Whiskies (released in 2013), so not really entry-level any more. All other bottlings, and there are quite a few by now, are single cask bottlings, some of which were released for particular countries alone.

Color: Pale gold.

Nose: Fruity and fresh. Nice barley aroma. Fruit cake. Sugared yellow fruits with a hint of smoke. Very, very appetizing. Extremely fruity and floral as well. Fruity first, floral second. Vanilla third. Dry powdered vanilla. Dusty and silent. I imagine a hot day. Next some glue and paint which only broadens the aromatic palate. Warm soft wet wood. Definitely summer in the air. What a wonderful nose. This works perfectly for me. Sure this may be a young Indian Whisky, but it already shows a lot of evolution. Ghanging and growing in my glass.

Taste: Barley and some sweetness, again with a bit of smoke. Incence, smoke from burning herbs. More exotic than the nose. Nice soft wood again and a bit of cardboard. Vanilla, so definitely American oak. Oak bitterness (and herbs) come next, giving the Whisky character and backbone. Both aroma’s are coated with vanilla ice-cream. How’s that for balance?

So this is entry-level Whisky. Wow! I’m not sure about you, but this is right up my alley. It differs from other Whiskies. Its exotic and it is definitely high quality stuff. Amrut already has a fan-club (Amrutfever), but I believe its time someone should start a fan club for Paul John as well.

By the way, reading back my review of the first batch of Paul John “Edited”, also shows me how much the Whisky world has changed in the three and a half years that have passed since then. In 2013, it seems, Whisky was just starting to get global, and today it seems every country in the world already has at least ten distilleries producing Whisky.

Points: 85

Many thanks go out to Shilton (Paul John brand ambassador), for your patience answering all my questions, and for the quickest response-time in the industry!

Bowmore 17yo “White Sands” (43%, OB, for Travel Retail, Bourbon Casks, 2014)

As announced in the previous post about the Bowmore “Deep & Complex”, here is the review for the Bowmore “White Sands”, the top offering from the previous travel retail trio. Where “Deep & Complex” has something to do with Sherry casks, this one is said to have been matured only in Bourbon casks. This 2014 travel retail release is somewhat odd though. Of the three, it is the only one not in a litre bottle, the only one bottled at the higher strength of 43% ABV, and the only one with an age statement. 17yo is also an unusual age, although there used to be a oficial 17yo that was replaced by the 18yo.

Color: Full gold.

Nose: Sweet, syrupy and some very nice, medium strength, smoke. Slightly vegetal, but mostly fruity with sweet orange oil mixed in with sweet, soft peat. Papaya and mango are noticeable too. Hints of cardboard and earwax. Cold black tea. Very accessible. Creamy vanilla and hints of soft oak. It’s almost like sugar-coated oak. I fear caramel coloring is at work here. I’m already getting slightly annoyed, and I haven’t even tasted it yet. I have tasted this bottling before, and on that occasion I found the smoke to be more up-front. That’s important for this bottling since the smoke-bit is really delicious and defining this Whisky (for me). That bottle was half full, by the way, so I’m hoping this only needs some more breathing. (I just opened this bottle). It may very well be from a different batch as well. Letting it breathe right now, already brings out some more wonderful notes from the smoke-department, so I’m confident that if you work this a bit, all will be fine in the end. This will turn out to be a hidden gem, I’m sure. Just let it breathe. Leave the stopper off for a while.

Taste: On entry; sweet (Rum) and waxy. Oak and fruit. Definitely a tad simpler than the nose and most definitely lacking some oomph. This needs at least 46% ABV. Please Bowmore, please. Cereals, soft wood and caramel. Almonds and mango chutney. Milk-chocolate powder. Nesquick. Hints of smoke and some sweet peat. A tiny hint of bitterness from the peat and oak, but not much, not much of that at all. Vanilla, vanilla ice-cream. Soft and creamy. Custard and pudding. You get the picture don’t you? It isn’t hard to taste, this suffers a bit from caramel coloring. Its aromas are glued together, a property of caramel coloring. I wonder what the chill filtration did to this expression? Is the complexity of the nose over the taste a sign of this?

Dangerously drinkable. Talisker Neist Point (a NAS bottling), is another of those peated, dangerously drinkable, travel retail Whiskies. I would love to hate both, since they are obviously flawed, but somehow they turn out better than expected. Never stellar, but good and likeable.

Although this is a good one, it still is one, I feel, has been tampered with. Chill filtered and colored, and as with the other Bowmore, reduced too much. Again a potentially stellar Whisky ruined, (at least in part it is), for the sake of how it looks on the shelves, and how money can be made, at airports. What kind of heartless, soulless people make these kinds of decisions? Do marketeers have so much to say, or are people, like us, who truly like their Whiskies, actually the odd ones out, complaining when we shouldn’t?

I can confidently recommend this Bowmore, I will give you another recommendation as well. Seek out an independent bottling of Bowmore, to find out how Bowmore actually tastes like without the tampering I mentioned.

Points: 86

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

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

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

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

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

Color: Copper.

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

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

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

Points: 87

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

Balblair 1990/2014 (46%, OB, 2nd Release)

Unbelievable! Here we have another Distillery that has never featured on these pages before. Balblair. Just like Glenrothes, Balblair is a distillery that has gone down the road, laid out by Wine. The long and winding road of releasing their products as vintages (in a reduced state, ABV-wise, that is). On the back of the bottle, in rather small print one can find the statement: “2nd release”. It implies that there has been an earlier 1st release, yes? Well, yes, but…

Since 2008 there has been an 1990 release which was a lot lighter in colour and which was only released in litre bottles for travel retail. That one was matured solely in ex-Bourbon barrels. It was released annually untill 2011. So there was a 1990/2008, a 1990/2009 etc. Since 2013 the first 2nd release, was released. the second in 2014, the third in 2015 etc. So what we have here are multiple, annual, batches from different bottling years of the 1st release, as well as of the 2nd release. So not only Glenrothes style vintages, but also Springbank style batches. Again the industry seems to consider batch variation to be a dirty word(s), yet I hope there is some adventure in these different batches. This will be a review of the 2014 batch (the 2nd batch of the 2nd vintage 1990, can you still follow? However, if a different batch falls into my hands, I’ll compare it to this one. By the way the 2nd release comes from the same casks and the same vintage as the 1st release, the only difference being this second release has spent about two years in ex-Oloroso Sherry butts. Oh, and with each new batch, it gets older as well.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Quite creamy, with sweet vanilla, ice-cream, fresh cold butter and Sherry. Hints of oak, fresh and toasted. Dry (scorched) leaves and herbal. Hints of coal even. Hints of paper, cardboard, toffee and honey. Cough syrup. This smells so sweet and syrupy that it is easy to conclude it lacks a bit of the woody backbone to keep it standing. This Whisky smells like a dessert by itself. The wood that is here, smells like pencil shavings.

Taste: Quite big, matching the nose. Sweet (Sherry) and syrupy. A bit too sweet imho. Maybe these casks didn’t contain the highest quality Sherry in the first place. Sweet milk chocolate, vanilla and vanilla ice-cream. (Now the honey in the nose becomes more pronounced as well.) Butter and more chocolate. Almonds with fruity acidity on top, as often this fruity acidity doesn’t blend in all that well. There seems to be a little problem with balance as well.  This acidity also has quite some staying power well into the finish only to dissipate in the aftertaste.

One sunny afternoon I tasted this 1990 2nd release and I loved it. Now, when giving it almost too much attention and analyzing it, there are some flaws that distort the balance a bit. It’s a bit too sweet and I don’t think the Sherry finish worked quite as it should. It’s completely fine when you have a casual dram and that is precisely where it’s for. I really liked it on that sunny afternoon, outside, with nice food and friends. When sitting at home, analyzing it, in a controlled environment, these flaws become more obvious, but I still like the Whisky very much. I wish I had the first release for comparison.

Ok, now I ask you to look past the flaws I described above, because as a whole this is definitely a good Whisky, so I stand by my score, which might be higher than you might expect from the text alone, and yes, at a good price, I would even buy it again. How is that for a recommendation. Just pick your moments to drink this, wisely…

Points: 87

Ardbeg “Corryvreckan” (57.1%, OB, 2014, L59815)

Well, here is an Ardbeg of which nothing is known, apart that it was first released in 2009, following up on Airigh Nam Beist, which ran from 2006 -2008. I won’t bore you with my take on the marketing jazz about Corryvreckan being a whirlpool. You can read about that on the box and on many sites across the interweb. Here the golden nugget from Ardbeg’s own site: “Corryvreckan takes its name from the famous whirlpool that lies to the north of Islay, where only the bravest souls dare to venture. Swirling aromas and torrents of deep, peaty, peppery taste lurk beneath the surface of this beautifully balanced dram”. Well, what can I add to that!

What I’d like to know is, how this Whisky came to be, and that is definitely more difficult to find out. Every bottling of Ardbeg has some sort of unique twist. Casks that were burnt to a crisp before using, or casks that were forgotten in a swamp, or casks that were kept in space for a while. The unique twist this time seems to that part of the Whisky was matured in French oak casks, (as opposed to the sole use of the immensely popular American oak). The rest of the Whisky was, of course, matured in first fill and refill American oak casks. American oak became so popular since it gives off a friendlier aroma of vanilla, making any liquor softer, creamier and more accessible. European oak, or French oak in this case, is less of the vanilla kind, but more about tannins. All the great Sherried Whiskies from yesteryear were matured in European oak Sherry butts and puncheons. Today the Sherry industry prefers American oak as well for reasons mentioned above. French oak is used a lot in the French Wine industry, so rumour has it, used Burgundy Wine casks were used for this Ardbeg as well. However we don’t know if they were virgin oak, first fill or not and what kind of Wine they contained (if any). A Chardonnay cask will result in a different Whisky, than a Pinot Noir cask…

Color: Full gold (no red or pink nuance though).

Nose: Very ashy and smoky right out of the gate. Licorice wood and sweet smoke. Garden bonfire. Sweet and soft peat. Citrussy, herbal and meaty. Crushed beetle and old tarry rope lying around in the sun. Fresh oak combined with some lemon (not the oil from the skin). Distant vanilla, but it is here. Ripe and sweet strawberry and vanilla ice-cream. More hints of red fruits and more promises of sweetness. Nice soft oak. Dusty. Very well made Ardbeg if it tastes as good as this smells, this will be a keeper!

Taste: Ashy again. Sweet, crushed beetle again, how odd. Big aroma, big body. Lots happening. Initially sweet but it is a good sweetness balanced out with sweet peat and dryness of the smoke. Definitely a type of fruitiness you don’t get from (Bourbon) oak alone, which would support the Wine cask claim. Fat peat and slightly tarry. Empty, off-season, fishing boat in the sun. Visions of an abandoned port. Not hot, only for a moment is shows some higher ABV, but I would have never guessed it is as much as 57.1% ABV. Well balanced, with only a medium, but decent, length. This is where it’s average age is noticeable.

Excellent standard bottling, and a damn good NAS as well, if I may say so. It can be done after all! I’m wondering which of the special releases, which are all more expensive, can beat this one? The 10yo is the entry-level Ardbeg and for me it has lost the most compared to the earlier tens since it has become way too sweet. I guess, that one has to appeal to a larger public, than this Corryvreckan and Uigeadail. I guess the latter are more for connoisseurs and anoraks like me and you. Now I will have to get me a new Uigeadail to compare it to this Corryvreckan. I have high hopes now…

Points: 89

Port Charlotte 10yo (46%, OB, 13/153)

Many people like Springbank very much and some of those people, the likes of bloggers and vloggers and die-hard aficionados, call out to other distilleries to look more at Springbank as an example how they feel things have to be done. In that respect, hiding in plain sight is Bruichladdich, who are doing things like Springbank but in their own way. For one they have multiple brands: Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore and more interestingly they are doing the “Local Barley” thing as well (f.i  the Bere Barley and Islay Barley bottlings). Both series contain rather young Whiskies, which are surprisingly good. Personally, even more exiting is the batch variation, which I find, adds to the adventure in Whisky, although I don’t think they change the composition as much as Springbank between batches. They even code like Springbank (here: 13/153). The first official Port Charlotte 10yo was bottled in 2012, so this is not the first batch of the first release, but it is still the first release, since in 2016 an official second release came out bottled at 50% ABV.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Nice fresh peat, and dare I say it has a Sherried note? Honest and slightly sweet. Full-on aroma. Slightly sweaty and floral at the same time. Soft as well. Dusty. Clay and finger paint. Pencil eraser. Medicinal. Cold gravy. For me, very special stuff with quite some unusual markers. This big synergetic aroma easily overpowers the soft peat. Maybe not overpowers, but it sure works well in tandem with it. Nice development and evolution of the nose. Every sniff seems different from the last, unless you are sniffing continuously. Appetizing stuff.

Taste: Peat, wood and some fruit in the background. The fruit shows quite some acidity. Starts out sweet, caramel, toffee, but that isn’t here to stay. Well, the aromas stay but the sweetness retreats a bit. Licorice wood. More (different kinds of) licorice combined with milk chocolate mousse. Some soap in my toffee now, as well as some mints (mint candy). Is this the taste of the floral part? Where the nose had a big aromatic presence, the body of this Whisky isn’t as big. Alas the taste cannot keep up with the nose, but the potential is there. If the quality of any of the younger distillates is anything to go by I’m predicting the future of the 10yo to be a bright one. Just compare it to, the sweeter by the batch, offerings of Laphroaig and Ardbeg 10yo’s.

Yes even by today’s standard, 40 ppm phenols is heavily peated, even though by now we are used to the insane peating levels of Octomore, where 167 ppm is just the start.

Bruichladdich might not be the most original distillery around, although Octomore sure is as original as it gets, but it might very well be the most progressive of the bunch today. Springbank is a main stay for me and I guess Bruichladdich can be added to that list now as well. Don’t worry, these two aren’t the only ones on that list. Not by a long shot.

Points: 86

The Glenlivet 13yo “Zenith” (57.9%, OB, Single Cask Edition, Cask #8024, 2013)

It was that other well-known Speyside distillery which between 1999 and 2004 released a few Exceptional Single Cask bottlings. Some of which I tasted and were very…exceptional indeed. Alas the bottles were a mere 500ml. The Glenlivet liked that idea and somewhere around 2005, started bottling their own exceptional single cask bottlings. For the first decade, releases were kind of sparce, but more recently, many more bottlings have seen the light of day. I’ve tasted quite a few by now, and some are really exceptional and some are less so. Still good, but nevertheless, not all that exceptional in my book. Proceed with caution I would say, especially when most of them are pretty costly even the young ones.

Another remark. Although it seems quite some information is put on the label I still miss a lot. Although the label does show a cask number (here: #8024), not stated is what kind of cask it came from. And what a about distillation year? pretty basic information most other single cask bottlings show. By the way, since most of these bottlings are quite expensive to boot, where is the wooden coffin? Even the Glenlivet 21yo has that and costs less than half. Sure you can’t drink the wooden box, but it would look nice wouldn’t it. Just look at the picture below. The bottle looks great, but the cardboard box next to it… not so much (at this price point).

Color: Gold.

Nose: Fresh with nice citrus notes countered by some smooth vanilla and soft oak. Very pleasant right from the start. Some distant fruit. Dusty mocha, aspirin powder and spicy oak. Yes the oak definitely asserts itself. Typical notes for a Whisky from a refill hogshead made from American oak, and as such, reminds of many fairly young Cadenheads bottlings from ex-Bourbon casks (remember those tall green bottles?). However, this one is not that hot. Again, there is some dried yellow fruit in the back. Well hidden but definitely noticeable. Hints of salt and pepper. By now the citrus notes have gone.

Taste: Here the fruit is more upfront, but the oak is as well. Not an instant-pleasure fruit-bomb you’ll like right away. After the initial fruity aroma, it has a sharp and slightly bitter attack of oak. Slightly soapy as well. Floral without ruining it. Just like the Glen Elgin I just reviewed, this seems to be one of those Whiskies you’ll have to work with. Definitely not a casual Whisky. It needs your full attention. So don’t distract yourself with loud music or some reading, since you would miss the essence of this Whisky. Spicy and bitter wood definitely take over from the initial aroma. Nutty as well. Fresh soft almonds. If you are patient and let the Whisky breath a while in your glass, the spicy oak, and especially the bitterness get softer, leaving more fruit to develop and reach a better balance. Still, the more this breathes the better it gets. Surprisingly it only has a medium finish, with a tad of  bitterness. Peanut butter and walnut skins in the aftertaste.

If you have a collection of these Single Cask bottlings, this one can serve as a contrast to some others, but if you buy just the one, I don’t think this is exceptional enough. What might be exceptional is that this is a non-Sherried, cask strength Whisky, which stays soft almost all the way through.

This one was bottled in 2013 and resurfaced in The Netherlands in 2016 with quite a discount. No wonder it sold out rather quickly. I guess it might be worth the price I paid (less than a 100 euro’s), but I would be very unhappy if I bought this, without tasting it first, for the initial price. Recent single casks, age notwithstanding, cost more than the very good XXV bottling. Something worth to consider.

When comparing similar bottlings I have open, sure the Lochside and the Caperdonich are better but also older and more rare. Compared to readily available Malts with a similar profile that I have, I would rather go for the Glen Keith, but this Glenlivet is nothing to scoff at though.

Points: 85