Speyburn 1991/2015 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Refill American Hogsheads)

Speyburn is a distillery that is owned by Inver House which also owns Balblair, Knockdhu, Pulteney and Balmenach. This is the first time a Speyburn features on these pages, and the last one of these five that lacked a penned down review from me. Speyburn distillery was founded by John Hopkins in 1897. John was a Whisky Merchant keen to have his own distillery to make Whisky. So this distillery is 125 years old now and managed to fly under my radar for a very long time. Personally I had so little to do with the output of this distillery, in all honesty, I thought this must be a rather new distillery. So in the world of Whisky aficionado’s, this Whisky never popped up. I’m a member of a Whisky club, that exists for 21 years now, and I believe Speyburn popped up only once. Why is that? Sometimes distilleries just have a bad reputation or no reputation at all (which may be even worse). Just look at Tobermory, which for a while had a bad reputation, and look at them now! Deanston (had a bad reputation for a while, not any more! Glen Moray and Fettercairn are still not very popular, but definitely on the way up. Some distilleries somehow just stay under the radar, without a reputation, in all anonymity, like Speyburn. Glen Spey is another one of which I’m not even sure if it had/has a bad reputation or it is just anonymous, since I never tried a lot of it. Never mind. Let’s introduce to us: Speyburn!

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Malty, half sweet and pretty nice. Fruity and dusty. The dusty bit has to do with soft (wet) wood, paper and cardboard (and some distant dried apricots manage to trickle down as well). Creamy and somewhat unpleasantly organic at first (which is short lived), somewhere in between dishwater and someone’s bad breath, or evenmy own. Otherwise a typical (fruity) hogshead nose, hogsheads made from American oak (ex-Bourbon) that is. The whole nose seems initially quite restraint, yet manages to open up quite nicely eventually. This one isn’t leaping out of my glass (maybe the reduction to 46% ABV was at fault). When given some time the balance will be better and the slight off note mostly disappears. The bad breath note has now more to do with the wood. It integrates with it. After a while the yellow, sugared fruit pop up some more, they were hidden behind a paper-like note. Dried papaya, dried peach and apricots, retaining thus the sweetness of it. But still there is this funky breath/wood bit behind it all, mixing in with a faint liquid licorice note. The wood is slightly losing its innocence as well, becoming more spicy and assertive. Good for you wood! Actually not a lot more is happening nose-wise, even after I give it some time to breathe. Fruity rainwater. The more this breathes the weaker it gets.

Taste: Well, nice entry, with a short-lived acidic note right from the start. Yes fruity and lively. Nicely so. Appetizing and friendly. Highly drinkable, especially at this ABV. In our modern times, 46% seems to be an ideal drinking strength (and also the bare minimum, since 43% isn’t really accepted any more), whereas 30 years ago, 40% did suffice. Just try some Connoisseurs Choices from that era. Wood and nuts. Creamy, sweet (artificial sugar like aspartame) and fruity. And the paper bit from the nose is here as well. Not a lot of bitterness from the wood, yet it manages to grow a bit over time. It is very “nice”, yet it also lacks a bit of complexity and evolution, although it does gain a bit on the palate if you let this stand for a while, becoming bigger and better. It is what it is, and it won’t change much. Paper and fruit in the finish.

Yes likeable and no, it doesn’t make up for the lack of complexity and evolution. Although nice at first, I guess I would get bored a bit, if I had to drink the whole bottle over a period of time. Good stuff for a bottle-share or a sample though, but the whole bottle I would pass on. It just isn’t exciting enough to warrant a buy. On the other hand, if you are new to Whisky, this might be an instant pleaser for you, so it has earned a spot for itself under the sun, and rightly so. Having said all that, I still did like it.

Points: 84

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Macallan “The Harmony Collection – Rich Cacao” (44%, OB, Sherry Seasoned European and American Oak, 2021)

When visiting the Whisky show last year (2022), my biggest disappointment came at the huge and wonderful looking Macallan stand. The Edrington group really knows how to market their stuff. I tried two different 12yo’s and the 2022 rare cask. All quite underwhelming for me. I might be spoiled, since I have tasted a lot of Macallans from the glorious days of “Science can’t wholly explain…” I can’t even remember when I bought my last Macallan, I only remember is was probably a Sherried Wilson and Morgan bottling (not the fantastic the 12yo though), yet still an independent bottling of “The Mac”. Good and affordable (for a Macallan). Now this modern “Rich Cacao” found its way onto my lectern… a free sample with a bottle of Cognac. I don’t expect much to be honest, after the aforementioned London experience, but I do hope this will be a good one. Probably sold out already, no surprise there, and I see it already costs a pretty penny in the secondary market, yet not as much as the Macallan from the glorious days, even the pretty standard ones.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Clean, fresh, woody Sherry, mocha with hints of latex paint, toast and some over-ripe almost rotting fruit (a good thing here). Better than expected actually, way better. I’m not smelling it blind, but I would say that it is recognizable as a (modern) Macallan Spirit. Nice dry and soft oak nose. Elegant, yet also somewhat robust even since this has been reduced to 44% ABV. Sweet caramel and toffee. Give it some time (but not much) to breathe and the aroma coming out of my glass is big. Dry cocoa powder, cookies and clean, dry, Oloroso Sherry. Dry vanilla powder and cold custard come next. Dark chocolate mousse, slightly sugared. Perfumy and complex. After all those weak Macallans I have tried recently, finally an interesting expression again. At least in the smell. Let’s try it now for real.

Taste: Sweet, waxy and Sherried, likeable and fun. Soft sweet (not acidic) red fruit compote (warm). Yes, a bit thin, tastes like a 40% ABV bottling. Tasty, but this has nothing to do with the Macallans from the glorious Sherry bomb days. Not the same quality and definitely not the same ooomphhh. This is soft, refined, elegant and designed and still manages to pack a small punch of the white pepper kind and some spicy dry oak. Cute. Some sweet licorice and Sherry notes come next. Dark yet sweet chocolate. Otherwise fruity and likeable, with a dry finish.

Well this was a nice surprise, a decent Macallan. Tasty and fun, yet also not all that special. Nice and highly drinkable, but not good enough to warrant the amount of hard-earned cash you have to shell out for this particular bottling (if you plan to drink it). If you are collector, then please do. Nevertheless, with a name so big as The Macallan, I expected a bit more. Good yet not a must try Malt for me. I’ll will continue to keep oogling the Macallan from a distance for the time being.

Points: 85

Aberlour 13yo (58%, OB, First Fill Sherry Butt #34595)

So what do you do after a few reviews of mostly Ex-Bourbon cask matured Whiskies? Yep, you’ve got it, you try to find a Sherry bomb to review, and as luck would have it, I just have such a thing still waiting on my lectern to be reviewed. Back in the day when one wanted a very good Sherried Whisky, one would turn to the likes of Longmorn, Strathisla and Macallan. After that, I remember Glendronach 15yo, (not the Revival one, no the one before that), was a nice alternative to Macallan 18yo (and the 15yo when it existed in some years). In more recent years, Macallan changed direction somewhat, so, Glendronach, Tamdhu and even more recently Glenallachie seem to be the, more affordable, go to Sherry bombs these days. Glenallachie 15yo seems to be rather popular, although it didn’t really convince me (yet).

Many independent bottlers are coming out with a lot of young first fill Sherry bottlings as well. Parallel to all this Sherry Bomb activity, there has always been Aberlour, especially with their A’Bunadh bottlings, and to a somewhat lesser extent with some single cask bottlings, which are less available and more expensive. Simply because they aren’t flooding the market with those, it’s giving me the feeling that if they do release a single cask bottling, it must be something of an exceptional single cask, a stunner so to speak. So when this was sold locally, I just couldn’t resist the looks of it, and bought it. I’m a sucker for those dumpy bottles, I just had to have it. Now the time has come to find out if this is an exceptional single cask or not, and if #13330 and #4934 are anything to go by, both are first fills as well by the way,…well you’ll understand that expectations run high by now.

Color: Orange-red-brown.

Nose: Sherry alright. Dusty oak and meaty. Cold gravy and animal fat. Quite heavy Sherry and a cellar type smell, yet also vibrant and fresh. Dull dishwater and fresh air, here a wonderful combination. Rhum Agricole from Martinique, not funky enough for Réunion. Very aromatic and again a well balanced nose. The stars seem aligned a bit in my house, since a lot of the previously reviewed Whiskies showed some really good balance as well. Seems a bit syrupy and muddy at times, but not all the time. Quite clean otherwise, due to its freshness and lemony aroma’s. Old dry nuts still in their shell, lying in a bowl on the table, not touched for a while since the nutcracker broke. Still fresh with sometimes a more organic (slightly farty) whiff flying by. Almonds and Sinaspril (an artificial smell of old orange powder). This is a Whisky that needs the warmth of your hand to unlock all the fine aroma’s. So don’t hold your glass by the stem of foot, but just keep it in your hand, moving it around a bit. If anything, this lacks the promise of a wee bit of sweetness or creaminess, although some of this is emerging, (honey notes now), if you keep the glass around for half an hour or so. Only after sipping a tiny hint of spicy sulphur comes forth, mixed in with licorice (Bassett’s, which emerges even later). It’s a bit strict, like teachers used to be. In comes Pink Floyd now…

Taste: Medium syrupy and hot, woody, spicy start. Tarry vanilla powder, somewhat soapy and some artificial cherries, making it less exceptional on entry, but still quite good, don’t get me wrong here. Let’s say right of the bat, that this is not recommended for novices. Next, fruity syrup, some spices and some good old wood. Cinnamon, cola, star anise and a light to medium, (depends on the moment), and soft, woody bitterness, in this case maybe taking away even some more from the exceptionalness (if that’s a word). Still, I have to mention this doesn’t bother me all that much every time around and on some days my perception of this differs from other days. Some hidden sweetness. On entry this might be a bit strange, not exactly perfectly balanced, the body is good though, but the finish shows a sort of fruity acidity which doesn’t fit the Whisky all that much, hurting the balance some more. Maybe the Sherry that was previously in this Butt wasn’t the best? I notice a slight soapy edge (again) on the sides of my tongue some time after swallowing. Medium length finish with some soap to it and this lingers on even longer in a long warming aftertaste. Seems older than 13yo.

This is a bit of a chameleon Malt, on some days I like it more and get something else out of it than on other days, yet another point why this might not be for novices. I wouldn’t even recommend an A’Bunadh for novices though, all of the batches, especially with these kinds of ABV. It definitely has quite a few good sides, but to be honest, when looking at the wonky bits, I’m not entirely sure why this cask was picked out for a single cask bottling, not for the general public I guess. It’s just not exceptional, although it is most definitely a very interesting bottling for anoraks. Sure it has its strange bits, but in a way I do like it, it is another take on Aberlour. Case closed.

Points: 86

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

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

Glenfarclas 15yo (52.1%, OB, Limited Edition for The Netherlands, 50% Refill & 50% First Fill Oloroso Casks, 1.800 bottles, 2020)

In 2015, I wrote a review about the core range 15yo (from 2006), and even with 83 points being a half-decent score, it also means it didn’t really blew me away back then. But, as is often the case with core range bottlings, there is a possibility of batch variation. Most distilleries try to replicate a certain profile and they usually succeed. Understandable because the bulk of those bottles are sold to people who like consistency, because they buy the same expression over and over again because that’s the one they like. Lets mention Talisker 10yo as an example of this consistency, although this 10yo exists for quite a while now and a shift in profile as times passes is inevitable, however, the quality seems consistent. Some distilleries are less proficient. Highland Park 18yo comes to mind showing a lot of variation in batches close to one another, just punch the reviews for these 18yo’s up from this site, like these 2012 and 2014 bottlings. Some distilleries embrace the possibility that batch variation gives them, Springbank is a master at this. With Glenfarclas I’m not sure, but I do know that this Dutch 15yo differs quite a bit from the 2006 15yo mentioned earlier.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Fresh, tight and fruity, maybe a little bit sweaty even, as well as some deep and brooding dusty notes, dust and chocolate powder. Sometimes farty organics. Beautiful fresh wood and wax. Fruit cake. Mushy red fruits, mushy after speedy or forced defrosting in a microwave. Wet or soaked oak, slightly sour, yet also some sharp fresh air. Very lively, with red fruit acidity combined with American oak vanillins, milk chocolate and the tiniest hint of toasted cask and cigarette smoke from a sixties living room. Fresh mushrooms. An autumn Whisky for sure. Rainwater flowing down the road. Dusty and quiet with a full on aroma. The woody bits transform into more paper like and old cardboard aroma’s, which sounds horrible, but isn’t. Red fruit still present throughout. Perfumy, leafy and all sorts of kitchen spice notes (a note of some dull, weathered, cinnamon comes to mind, mixed with the toasted oak and the chocolate powder), give this one some time to release all the aroma’s. It’s almost like it is in part steeped in the past and in part modern. Very well balanced. Very nice.

Taste: Starts sweet and fruity, like diluted jam, forest strawberry jam, raspberry jam, red fruit jam altogether. Warming going down, well balanced and tasty. Nice wood aroma’s, just the right amount. Fresh oak and toasted oak are all here. Nutty. Tiny hint of tar and toast mixed in the distance with some menthos (I don’t get that all the time though), which is a nice addition to the fruity and syrupy notes. After swallowing, a slightly more dry and spicier wood note comes forth, as well as more tar. Again warming and drying my lips. So definitely some astringent wood with actually not a lot of bitterness. At times slightly soapy, but not every time I taste this. The woody bit of the body, let’s say the middle bit, seems to have some definite tarry notes to it. Tasty stuff, really good, especially after not expecting this one to be this good.

When analysing this one in my controlled environment, it is a very good expression, when tasting this one randomly, let’s say within a flight of some other Whiskies, this one performs differently, so beware. It doesn’t overpower others so it depends a bit, what came before. It can be easily overpowered by other Whiskies, and I don’t even mean your heavy hitting Islay Whisky or a bona-fide confirmed Sherry monster, no, even a normal refill bourbon casked single cask Whisky like the Tamnavulin 8yo I just reviewed can overwhelm this Glenfarclas. Something one wouldn’t say from tasting this Glenfarclas alone.

Top tip, give this one the attention it deserves, take your time with it and you’ll be rewarded. Still, this is very tasty stuff and it is better than I initially expected. As said above, it is well balanced. This is a bottle that will be gone soon, since when I see this standing on my lectern, the only words that come to mind are “yes, please” and off comes the cork. A fun and foremost a very good Whisky. An instant gratification Malt. Maybe not all that complex, but what you get is very balanced and tasty. As I said, this will be finished soon. Is this really merely the undiluted version of the core range 15yo? If so, it is a worthy special release by any means and decently priced to boot for those el cheapo Dutch. Lucky bastards!

Points: 89

Tamnavulin 8yo 2009/2017 (59%, A.D. Rattray, Cask Collection, Bourbon Barrel #700628, Finished in a First Fill Bourbon Barrel for 16 months, 229 bottles)

This will be an interesting bottle. After the Dalmore I reviewed last, here is another example from a distillery from the portfolio of Whyte and Mackay, and yet another independent bottling. This is the first review of a Tamnavulin on these pages and to be honest, I never ran out of the house to fetch me a Tamnavulin. Tamnavulin just doesn’t have such a reputation. I did buy a nice, and very old, example from Duncan Taylor once, in the USA many years ago, but that’s about it. A few years back I visited the stand of A.D. Rattray at the Whisky Show in London, and tasted this Tamnavulin, I though it was rather nice and being a Tamnavulin, I bought it at the show shop. I couldn’t have been very expensive then.

Apart from the taste, I really liked the idea of maturing a Whisky in a Bourbon Barrel and then finishing it in another first fill Bourbon Barrel. This may imply the first cask it matured in wasn’t a first fill, but I might be wrong. The other thing that grabbed me was the mention of the number of the first cask it matured in (#700628), yet not the number of the cask it was finished in. But wait, there is even more. The label claims this was first matured for “over” 7 years and then received a finish of 16 months, so 100 months or more. Distilled on 10.05.2009 and bottled on 31.08.2017 equals less than 100 months. Being a Tamnavulin and all this wonky information on the label, and having tasted it, I just needed to have it, especially since Tamnavulin is rather a scarcity on my lectern.

Color: Medium gold (and seemingly not filtered to death).

Nose: Vanilla and soft oak. Malty and biscuity. Pleasant and fruity. Quite floral and perfumy. Classy. Underneath a more sweetish and fruity bit. Big and bold, with lots of aroma’s and an open character. Even though it is quite a young Whisky, there are no traces of new make and it smells quite mature. The oak gives off some spicy notes, but not much. Seems to me the initial cask wasn’t all that active and the second maturation wasn’t long enough for that cask to dominate the strong oaky notes. Interesting finish this is. Notes of yellow fruits are a bit overshadowed by this perfumy and soap-like aroma. The more I nose this, the more spices are noticeable, but all under this floral cloak. Smelling harder pulls out the yellow fruity bits, as well as some mint and a wee hint of horseradish and rainwater. The fruit turns slightly acidic. Maybe this makes the balance department suffer a bit, but it’s not a big problem though. After a while it turns a bit dusty and the mint vapor has some staying power in my nose. The sweetness picks up some licorice as well. This is an autumn Whisky (based on the nose alone at his point). Given more time, notes of cold dish water, bad breath and honey, these are adding to the complexity, but again making the balance suffer some more. Still this is still not a big issue though. I know “interesting” often has a negative ring to it, but without implying any negativity, this one just is interesting, due to the complexity and the oddness of the aroma’s this Whisky gives off.

Taste: Ahhh, nice. Spicy, slightly bitter and sweetish. Vanilla, nutty and some nice wood, that seemed not to be there in the nose. Warming and highly drinkable. Meaty as well. The vanilla bit grows slightly stronger when you hold this in your mouth. The first sip sort of repairs the nose, focusing it on the more lovely floral bit. Very appetizing and much better balanced than the nose was. Sweet and nutty, honeyed nuts. However the wood gave off plenty of spiciness to counterbalance the sweetness, which is definitely here, yet masked by the wood. Tasty example this is, and seems definitely more mature than the 8 years it (only) has. Apart from the sweetish yellow fruits on the palate, this Tamnavulin also has some zesty citrussy notes. Here it works well, in the nose the acidity isn’t helping the balance of it, however, on the palate this Tamnavulin is well balanced and the slightly bitter notes, this shows towards the finish, can put off some tasters, who don’t like bitterness altogether, but it does add to the balance. The dishwater and soapy bit in the nose, does play an unexpected role here in the aftertaste as well. Unexpected because it arrives late and I didn’t expect it at all to be honest. Along with this bitter note the nose shows us some licorice to go with it, changing the Whisky a bit. Nice complexity thus. Still an autumn Whisky I would say.

I like this Tamnavulin. The two casks worked quite well together. It’s mature and tastes great. The first cask must have been a refill cask, not giving off too much woody and bitter notes from the cask for the stated 7 years. The second cask, a more active one, did have enough time to impair its creamy and vanilla notes, but after 16 months, it didn’t have enough time to give off a lot of woody aroma’s, making for a reasonable well balanced young Whisky without the wood dominating the palate, nope the wood is just about right.

Points: 85

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

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

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

Color: Copper brown, Bourbon.

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

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

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

Points: 89

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

The Benriach 18yo “Latada” (46%, OB, Limited Production, Peated, Madeira Finish. 4001 bottles, 2015)

The Benriach Limited Production 18yo’s. It took me a few years but now we can finally put this trio to rest. In the year 2015 three 18yo’s were released, but not on the same moment. Albariza (PX finish) was the first one, reviewed in 2018, Dunder (Rum finish) the second, reviewed in 2015 and finally this review of Latada (Madeira finish) in 2021. Quite a lot has happened in the world in this space of time. In 2017 also two second edition’s were released, both 22yo, so the original casks for these two, were filled earlier than those for the 18 yo’s. However, this tells us nothing about length of the finish. Albariza and Dunder were thus repeated, but there is no 22yo Latada. Were the Madeira casks used for finishing unavailable or did they forget to produce it? Were the results unsatisfactory and the decision was made to hold it back, or maybe the original 18yo Latada didn’t sell all that well or was somehow unpopular and they just didn’t bother to repeat it. Who knows? So, let’s find out for ourselves, shall we?

Color: Full gold.

Nose: Fruity and very pleasant light peat. Latex paint, vanilla powder and warm apple sauce. Very pleasant nose. I’ll let you in on a little secret with this Malt. You can force this Malt to smell like a 1976 Benriach or Tomatin. Fruit, fruit, fruit, tropical fruit, well you catch my fruity drift now, yes? Excellent old-skool Benriach fatty, sweet and succulent yellow fruit. If you pour this Malt in your favourite glass and cover it up right away, allowing for the aroma’s to concentrate under the lid. Leave it there for a few minutes (or even better, hold it in your hands to speed up the process). When you feel confident, take the lid off and smell it… Remember, you heard about this here first! This Benriach has this amazing trick upon its sleeve. Thick sunny fruit with a nice black peaty edge. Good balance. Warm smoked apple sauce and moisturising hand cream (Nivea). Crushed beetle and smouldering leaves. Fresh oak with nice medium wood spices and some bonfire notes. Amongst all these Benriach’s that were released under Billy Walkers reign, with labels in colours you didn’t even know existed, these three finishes (Albariza, Dunder and Latada) really stand out for me, as if these received some kind of extra care. Benriach is already a great distillate and Malt, and these three are certainly no slouches. Otherwise this Latada seems to be somewhat simpler and less peaty than both Albariza or Dunder.

Taste: Sweet and sour fruity acidity. Apple sauce, sugared yellow fruits, slightly nutty (like a mix of freshly burnt and unsalted nuts you buy at the market on Saturday) and cigarette ashes. Thick (sweetness + peat) and thin (acidity) at the same time. Some nice wood, more than the nose had, but not very much, not a lot of bitterness as well, which is great. This leaves more room for the fruit and the peat. I expected even some more peat here though, and maybe even some prickly smoke, but foremost this Malt shows me ashes first, apart from the fruit that is. Soft and (light) peat do come next. Only next, comes some sweet licorice and again some wood. All in all a very tasty Whisky (hints of diluted Fanta), but less complex than expected. Excellent finish though. Nice warming and peaty aftertaste. Sure, of the three, Latada makes you work the hardest to show you what it’s got, but it is still a very nice one. The body of this Malt is narrower than both the Albariza and Dunder and as said also somewhat less complex.

Keep a lid on this one! Focus them aroma’s!

Points: 87

I understand that the scoring of Albariza (89 Points), Dunder (88 Points) and Latada (87 Points) seem a bit “coincidental”, but for me these scores reflect perfectly the quality of all three Malts and the differences between them. All three are very good, and some finishes just work a little bit better than the next. Keep in mind that this is my personal opinion, and it is highly likely, your preferences will differ. The perception one has, concerning the PX, Rum and Madeira finishes is also a matter of taste and can differ from one person tot the next. So for me the PX finish works best, but the other two are very nice as well. All three finishes work very well with the peat, and I can recommend all three. Considering these 18yo’s, I could be tempted to buy the Albariza and the Dunder back, but luckily these two have 22yo’s versions, so I’m getting those in stead. If a 22yo Latada would have existed I would have bought that one as well, because the 18yo version is still a good Whisky, receiving a well deserved 87 points. It would be interesting though to see how the 22yo would have been. However, I’m not sure if I would be getting the 18yo Latada again. For me it is still the least one of the three if you compare them to each other, and it is also the one that needed the most work to get everything out of it. Albariza and Dunder are easier in that respect. Get them all, they are good and differ quite a lot from each other. I would only recommend opening them in reverse order, so Latada first, than Dunder and finally Albariza. That will work best.

Glenallachie 26yo 1992/2019 (54.8%, Cadenhead, Bourbon Hogshead, 240 bottles)

Here is another example of a soft spot Whisky that has been aged for a good while in a (refill) Bourbon Hogshead, like the Glentauchers I just reviewed, although this Glenallachie is twice the age of the Glentauchers. In my recent reviews of Inchgower and Tormore, I mentioned Whiskies although they may be lesser known to the public, I particularly like. This may very well be, and most definitely is, a personal thing. I believe one of the interesting aspects of one’s Whisky adventure is finding a Whisky that suits you personally. One that clicks. Often these lesser known Whiskies come from work-horse distilleries built for the sole purpose of making whisky for some big volume blend. In the case of Glenallachie that was the Clan Campbell blend. Well, Glenallachie might just be another one of those work-horse distilleries that could suit my palate just right. Up ’till just recently, only bearded extremist, poncho wearing, aficionado’s had ever heard of Glenallachie and knew what the distillery was capable of, and sure enough, even Master Quill did only write about independent bottlings of Glenallachie until the recent review of the official 15yo. So the tradition has already been broken, but here is yet another independent bottling of Glenallachie, this time one bottled by Cadenhead.

Fairly recently things have changed considerably at Glenallachie. Billy Walker cashed in big-time by selling Benriach and Glendronach, and turned his eye upon Glenallachie for his next project. Similar to what has happened with Benriach and Glendronach, a lot of Single Cask bottlings and a new and extensive standard range, with lots of variants, is hitting the markets as we speak. Hot stuff! At the Whisky Show in London, I had the opportunity to try a lot of these newly released Glenallachie OB’s for the first time, and, I have to say, I was quite impressed and especially pleasantly surprised by the “younger” expressions. The 12yo OB as well as the first few batches of the cask strength versions of the 10yo were very good. I am liking the potential here and will keep an eye out for this distillery and its offerings.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Spicy, fruity and appetizing. Smells a bit like (any) classic Cadenhead refill hogshead bottling I know from 20 years ago. Citrussy, almost the clean and cold citrussy (lemon) smell of a freshly cleaned toilet. Wonderful soft wood. Even the toilet paper seems to be here. It is definitely not as bad as it sounds, it is actually quite appealing, but I find a freshly cleaned toilet also appealing (and inviting). So fresh and clean it is (The Whisky). Next, a more warming and medium spicy wood smell next to the citrus. Pencil shavings. Nice development as well. It’s aromatic, but it is not big. Next, more sweeter (diluted honey). The fruit is never far away just like this impression of sweetness. Some seriously fine fruity aroma’s emerge. For instance, green apple emerges quite late. Damp forest floor as well as some plants in the summer. Slightly minty and hints of Calvados. Dry lavender pouch from grannies drawers and lots of fresh air too. The citrus I already mentioned, but also some ripe sweeter kinds of yellow fruits. This needs some time to open up. Excellent balance between the wood and the fruit. Probably from a (second, or more) refill Bourbon Hogshead. This one is just about the cask and the distillate, giving us some nice results. The recently reviewed Cragganmore 12yo Special Release, is also a Whisky built around this theme (as well as some unexpected smoke, in that particular case). A perfect example of a Whisky where the beauty lies in the details, which works excellently in a flight of Whiskies like these. Top Tip!

Taste: Hot entry, where the wood has a louder voice than it had on the nose. Alcohol first. Caramel, toffee, cold chocolate milk and a candied apple on a stick. Sweetness second. Starts with only a clear hint of wood. Sharpish (painted) wood (old paint), yet not a lot of it. Wood third. Quite pleasant. Sweet and lots of sugary sweet yellow fruits, very, very appetizing. The start of this Malt is really wonderful and well balanced. Very tasty. Towards the body of the Malt and especially in the finish, there is also quite some, lets say, some less hidden wood, which is no surprise after 26 years. The wood becomes quite pronounced towards the end of the body and especially in the finish. The wood shows quite some bitterness as well, which takes away a bit from this Dram. Plant sap and oak. A bit hot going down. Drying on my tongue, making the malt more astringent. The sweet start is entirely pushed away. The fruit is still there but the wood replaces the sweetness, making it less lively and less “tropical”. The bitterness has some staying power but not much. Actually, nothing has a lot of staying power, so this definitely is of medium length at best. A light bitter woodiness makes up the aftertaste.

Yes this is a good Malt and I understand the people who say they really like it. It has some really good traits. For me personally though, losing the sweetness along the way and the wood, and its bitterness, taking over like this, takes away a from this Malt. But hey, this is a 26yo Malt, so there is bound to be some wood in here, don’t you think? I wonder how this was when it was younger. Would the wood have less to say, less drying and less bitter? Would the fruit be still as developed as it is now or would it be more youthful and vibrant? Maybe we’ll find out some day from a sister cask that was bottled several years earlier. In the intro I was wondering if Glenallachie might be another work-horse distillery which would suit my palate? Well after the Glenallachies I tasted up ’till this point, I wouldn’t place it in that category with Tormore and Teaninich just yet…

Points: 86