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

Talisker 8yo (57.9%, OB, Special Release, Carribean Rum Cask Finish, 2020)

Talisker is no stranger on these pages, and this 8yo is already the fifteenth Talisker reviewed, and why not, I ask you. Talisker has a lot going for it. It is an excellent distillate, has some peat, although not as much as some others on the market, and has a distinct and maybe unique feature, it is often considered to be peppery. A lot of wonderful aroma’s can converge in a Talisker. Works well in both Bourbon and Sherry, and the core range 10yo is already a very good Whisky. One other distillery manages to tick all these boxes save one. The distillery’s name is Springbank and the box not ticked is the box for pepper, I did say it was an unique feature, didn’t I?

In 2018 the first 8yo was released in Diageo’s annual special releases series. That “first” 8yo, was a very good one, and I remember back then, (and this is not that long ago), the talk of the town were the plethora of NAS releases (in general). At the time, there were many Talisker NAS bottles released as well. This 8yo was so good, a lower number like 8 suddenly became acceptable again, and the public always seem to prefer an age statement, so better a low number than none at all. I guess this took Diageo a bit by surprise, who knows, because there wasn’t an 8yo released in 2019. In 2020 this Caribbean Rum version saw the light of day (rushed maybe?) and earlier this year, another 8yo was released, from the smokiest stock they could find. Looks like the 8yo is here to stay. We’ll see what next year brings.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Initially milky and young. Tasted blind, I would have guessed this was a Lagavulin, since it has some similarities with the 8yo and the 10yo, similarities, which, I didn’t like by the way. I really, really like Lagavulin, never came ‘cross one that was sub par. So when coming across the 8yo and the 10yo, it felt a bit like a sell-out by Diageo, and I was overly disappointed, damn, I didn’t think they would stoop so low as to mess with the ‘vulin. But I digress, back to the Talisker at hand. Sweet tea leaves (wet), rain water and dead dry leaves on the street in autumn. It shows more (quite nice) wood spices when the initial milky component wears off a bit. Spicy, with mild sulfury organics, sweet mint and orange powder. Smells of a distant wood fire whilst walking on a snowy street at night (by yourself). This bit is great. When drinking this Whisky casually, I have a hard time to find any notes of Rum, both in the nose and in the taste. I do now, but for me they are more similar to a Rhum Agricole than the Caribbean Rum that is stated on the label, and by the way, Caribbean Rum, that isn’t really narrowing it down now doesn’t it? So Rum yes, but there isn’t a lot of it though. I feel all the alien notes this Talisker shows us, maybe aren’t even coming from the Rum casks at all, but they probably are. Diluted smoky toffee notes and hints of Brazilian Rum (Epris 15yo). At times sharp. The wood turns towards, toffee, coffee, mocha and pencil shavings. This will improve a lot with air, so give it time, but if you pour yourself another dram, the whole experience starts anew, including the wait for the nose to improve. Recognizable as a Talisker though. Apart from the wonky start the nose is all-right.

Taste: Starts with coarse alcohol, like Wodka, right from the start, not balanced. Paper and cardboard and some residual (barley) sweetness. Not much later the wood and all the lovely aroma’s from American oak kick in, as well as a peppery attack, yes, there it is. The aroma’s are there but the balance still struggles, like its missing a component. The wood also impaired a healthy amount of bitterness onto this Whisky, but since this Whisky also has a bit of sweetness, the bitterness is kept in check. The bitter notes take residence right on the very back of your tongue. Smoky and thus a peppery attack as well, so it’s still a Talisker after all. Fresh almonds, wood and latex paint. Come to think of it, this one isn’t really all that complex. The body of the work is good, the ending a bit less, so the finish shows the unbalance again, and the aftertaste does so as well, and shows us again the bitter notes this has.

First piece of advice. Pour this dram and put it away, let the air do its job first, because the first aroma’s that escape from your glass are too close to new make spirit. And after a long wait the whole experience is much better. The nose improves a lot and therefore the taste is helped along. In the end it is an interesting Talisker, no regrets opening it and it wasn’t a nasty chore to finish it as well (not empty just yet, but it will be soon). I won’t be opening a second bottle anytime soon though. Buy the 2018 version in stead, and well see about the 2021 edition in the (near) future.

Points: 85

Talisker 15yo (57.3%, OB, Special Release, Freshly Charred American Oak Hogsheads, 2019)

We have already seen quite a few special releases from Talisker, probably the most popular distillery in the Diageo portfolio. For instance, there have been two releases of 20 yo’s in 2002 and 2003, an annual release of a 25yo. Between 2004 and 2009 the 25yo was bottled at cask strength, and since 2011 it was reduced to the “Talisker strength” of 45.8% ABV. There have been several 30yo, again, between 2006 and 2010 bottled at cask strength, and since 2011 reduced to “Talisker strength” as well. There have been some other special releases as well. Since 2018 Talisker showed up in the annual special releases with a 8yo, in 2019 with this 15yo and in 2020 another 8yo was released, this time finished in Caribbean Rum casks. I expect Talisker to be a main stay in the forthcoming years of annual releases. Let’s have a look at one of those three new annual releases. The one I have open in my glass right now is this 15yo from 2019, an expression matured in freshly charred American oak hogsheads. Usually these are refill casks that have been used multiple times, and have grown a little bit tired. A long time ago these casks would have been scrapped, but these days theses cask are rejuvenated, their lease of life extended by re-charring them and opening up another layer of wood, giving an aroma closer to virgin oak than a refill cask would. So lets have a look at this tired old oak release, to see if it’s any good…

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Very aromatic. Hints of Rhum Agricole and sweet funky organics. Dry, big and fatty. A promise of sweetness, but it’s not only this, it also has a sharper and very fresh side as well, like a windy seaside view complete with sea spray. Nutty, sweet and creamy with some ground coffee, not freshly grounded mind you, a bit faded, maybe old ground coffee. Paper and a bit of cardboard, but also very old, soft spicy wood. Kitchen spices. Lovely and fruity sweet organics. Peppery attack with a big alcoholic, well, attack as well. Hints of peat combined with different funky organics. The initial, almost ozonic, layer makes up the first series of aroma’s, but when these pass, more fruity notes emerge. Some of the fruity notes are quite acidic and it seems there are several acidic notes, not all of which seems to be well integrated initially. A razor sharp Malt. When this gets more time to breathe, and especially when the bottle becomes emptier and emptier, it shows a more woody note mixed in with something very nice. Still fresh and very oxygenated, and also more balanced. I get lots of notes I don’t encounter all that much. A special release indeed. Fresh pineapple, sweet apple meat, mixed with a wee bit of cream. Tiniest hint of smoke and tar, but different from Islay smoke and tar, here it is more refined and combines with creamy wood and American oak vanilla. Sometimes, I swear, I even get a note of rotting wood and cold water left over after washing the dishes the evening before. All of this is partly masked by the fruity bits on the nose. Salty meat is next. Polish dried sausage. Complex it is!

Taste: Big, very big, with a short sweet and vanilla sensation and an equally short slightly bitter attack. Clay, sharp smoke, burnt wood, warm peat and lots of nuts. Industrial and it differs quite a bit from the nose. Salty and dried fish. The sweetness evolves after the initial attack. Salty and dried meat come next, with later on, after the first sip, a nice nutty and wonderfully creamy body with the classic Talisker pepper attack. The smell of clean steamy bodies in a sauna, how is that for funky organics? It has been a long time since I had a Malt this salty. The feeling of salt on my lips. When this opens up a bit, some nice yellow fruit notes emerge. Nice fruity acidity better integrated than it was in the nose. More peat and smoke (and clay again). A really good Talisker yet not perfectly balanced though. There is this difference between the nose and the taste, but also not everything I can taste seems to be in it’s right place. Don’t worry, this is only a minor grievance. Quite hot going down. But this is also why we like Talisker. Fruity and also some winey notes. Lips still salty. Long finish (with less balance than the body has) with a very warm aftertaste in which the wood, the dried yellow fruit and the toasted oak resonate. Personally, I find this to be another very good OB like the 8yo from 2018. Both welcoming releases after all those lesser and less inspired NAS bottlings. I hope Diageo will continue to release good and interesting Talisker’s in the annual special releases.

Let it breathe for a while, this needs quite a lot of time and air to find more balance.

Points: 88

Last year I reviewed the Talisker 57° North and since that has an almost identical ABV, let’s do a H2H between North and this new 15yo. First of all, the North is ever so slightly darker, most likely from caramel colouring. On the nose North is much softer and definitely a lot younger. Much closer to new make spirit. That’s exactly the difference between a NAS and a 15yo. The 15 has more wood, and is more mature. North has more cream, like creamy sweet yoghurt. On the palate the North is way simpler, sweeter, rounder and again much younger as well. The North by itself is a nice high ABV Talisker. However, if you compare it to a Talisker with some proper ageing, the differences couldn’t have been greater. Different puppies altogether.

This is review #800.

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

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

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

Color: Pale White Wine.

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

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

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

Points: 89

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

Lagavulin 12yo ‘Special Release’ (56.4%, OB, 2007)

And now for something completely different: Lagavulin. Well, we all know Lagavulin is pretty great. It’s virtually impossible to find a bad expression. So big thumbs up to the people at Lagavulin! A long time ago there was a 12yo already. Cream label, pretty good. After that they made a pretty fantastic 16yo, which was great, had a little lapse some years ago (but still good). Luckily, more recent bottlings are doing well again. Still, in 2002 the people at Diageo thought is was time to revive the 12yo as a ‘Special Release’ at cask strength this time. A release that is up ’till now, annual. Let’s try one, shall we.

Color: White Wine

Nose: At first, peat obviously, then a bit sour. Kippers, diesel and salty like the Pibroch at sea. Gravy combined with tar (from the ship’s hull), smoked fish (from the galley). This needs some air, and we’re not in a hurry. It’s rough but not unrefined, and doesn’t taste young. It smells like a whisky for an upper class fisherman.

Taste: It’s sweet, and has the obvious peat, but warm peat this time. It has a dirty edge to it, animalesque is the word that comes to mind, but does this word exist, or is it already the whisky talking? Now some ash and sweat, well it’s hard work on a boat like this. After some time it’s still sweet and some ‘black & white powder’. This is a taste that resembles liquorice (if you’re not from Holland or Finland)

Well isn’t this great stuff again! If you look at prices asked for this kind of whisky, well you’ll have trouble finding something better for your money. This should be a standard on your whisky lectern. Assuming you like whiskies from Islay that is.

Sells for 65 Euro’s

Points: 90