Thursday, 11 February 2016

Springbank Local Barley 2016

Malted at Springbank, the malt kilned using local coal and local peat, made using local water. Single farm, single barley variety (same as the 2011 society bottling in fact, same year, is this the same spirit?). There's more provenance here than you can shake a local stick at! I'm a big, big fan of terroir led whiskies and "local barley" - the laddie and Octomore ones have been awesome, the other Springbank local barley I've tried (the society 2014) is epic, and Arran's Bere Barley is awesome. Maybe concentrating on the barley really is massive in whisky? And so is the yeast (a la London Distillery). If so Waterford Distillery is onto something awesome.  Or maybe it’s just that taking the time to make something special really does make it special.

sprob.1966v9The release of this whisky at around £95 saw a flurry of activity.  The original local barley bottlings are the stuff of legend, and with the 2014 society local barley bottling rapidly becoming the same, it was understandably popular.  Cades had it in first, which is where the bottle for these notes came from (they’ve just announced February’s epic outturn).  They knew me well enough to put me on the list.  Other suppliers have come online and sold out since, with only a small amount of shameful price gouging from some you’d expect, and others who should know better.  TWE is still to show so there’s still chance to score one of these, and in the meantime, you can get a nice selection of the original bottlings there.

Anyway, this marks the first of five annual local barley bottlings, each exploring a different barley variety or farm. Each will have a different ratio of cask types. I am led to believe that this will be the eldest of the series.

Springbank Local Barley, 16 years old, 2016, Prisma, Machrimore Farm, 54.3% A⊕+

September 1999 to January 2016, 9000 bottles. 80% bourbon casks, 20% refill Oloroso sherry casks.

springbank-16-year-old-local-barley-whiskyNose - Everything about the whisky, before you taste it, shouts honey - the colour of the whisky, the label, the box. And like honey, the nose on this is instantly thick, slightly musky, sweet and ripe. Then it's pure Springbank - slightly mineral, toffee, apple, machine oil and oak. With time, applewood smoked rye whisky, red wine stew (there's almost a hint of horseradish sauce here) and pencil lead. But this is big - totally Springbank with real gravitas.

Body - Ripe but balanced, a big sweet petrol hit and fairly hot. Quite peated, really, quite spicy, you know you've had a sip. The front of the palate is pure, sweet Springbank, then toasted malt, then almost chocolate malt. There's the hard toffee from an Eclair. With water, the heat is gone and there's a perfect mix of sweet, sour malt, toffee, coffee and wood. And a blessed touch of Campbeltown funk.

Finish – Very long, nicely interwoven strands of sulphur. toffeed. Extraordinarily morish with water, that sweet/sour/funk thing runs, next to the Springbank engine oil, with berries and citrus pith right through to the end. It's actually quite hard to stop sipping it.

As Matt said, expectations were high for this one.  This doesn't disappoint.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Littlemill Private Cellar Reserve, 25 years old

I’ve not had too many Littlemills.  They are starting to pass into legend as the disillery’s closure date fades into the past.  Well, they didn’t just close it, they closed it, dismantled it, burned it to the ground, and then built a housing estate on top of it.  I’d say it’s probably not going to start producing whisky again any time soon.  Anyway, I’ve had a TBWC one (pretty good) and a Lady of the Glen one (excellent) and the Cadenheads one (also excellent).  They were all indies, so it’s nice to try something official, even if it is posthumously.  A million thanks to Joe for giving me the remains of his sample of this, I didn’t make it onto the Tweet Tasting.

Littlemill Private Cellar Edition, 25 years old, 50.4% A⊕

littlemill-25-year-old-private-cellar-edition-2015-whiskyNose - Fresh, important, waxy, fruity and elegantly polished. Big juicy fruit, fruit salad chews, window putty and cut grass. Toffee and apple wood with a little time. You know when, after all the old single cask indies you've been drinking you try an old official bottling (way out of your price range but probably not even as old as the single casks), and it just has more gravitas? That’s the case here. Maybe it's the marketing. Anyway, this smells important to me. Even better with water, with Pret Love Bars, roasted plums and even classier wood.

Body - Vibrant, wooded, toasty. Toffee apples, boiled sweets. Oily. Gentler with water, mouthcoating still and still with gravitas, but a lot toppier than before.

Finish - Very long, quite hot, big fruit tannins, herbal with an astringent note, like grapefruit speared with rosemary.

A very special whisky on the nose. Structured and important on the delivery, although a little more citrus and younger that I'd expected. This is a great whisky, unfortunately for a highly amusing price, only one per customer!

Friday, 5 February 2016

SMWS February 2016 Outturn

A new bourbon distillery!  Some sherry!  On paper this is quite an interesting, solid outturn. But the Glen Elgin is a repeat from December and the Penderyn isn’t out until mid-January (I assume a bottling problem again?) and some of the younger stuff isn’t wonderful.  So,  despite another stella Bowmore and (yet) another fabulous Laphroaig, and those sherry casks being really rather good, this is the first noticably weak outturn I’ve seen from SMWS.  That’s relative, obviously, to the usual greatness.  But still…

SMWS 70.13, Neat heat, turning mellow and sweet, Balblair, 9 years old, 57.8% B+

19th May 2006, 198 bottles, refill bourbon

20160202_180835Nose - A lovely balance of coastal oak, sweet spirit and apple cores. Some lime marmalade, rhubarb crumble. A really compelling, young nose - the wood character is very classy and rather good. With water, sweeter, chocolate and cut flowers.

Body - Sharp, fiery and very sweet. Intensely sweet in fact; gobstoppers and bonbons. Very spirity up front. Better with water but still lots of chilli heat, cinnamon fireball gobstoppers, liquorice perhaps.

Finish - Medium length, very hot with parallel sweetness but no midrange. Tannic with water - cloying behind it.

Love the nose on this, elegance and lots of spirit, but it falls apart in the delivery.

SMWS 48.71, An amazing technicolour Dram, Balmenach, 13 years old, 63.9% A-

7th May 2002, 216 bottles, first fill bourbon

20160202_182344Nose - Sweet, classy and bourbony - very sweet in fact. Oily (perhaps mint) toffee, a lovely herbal edge to it (cut wood, a little earth), some melting chocolate (thanks John). This smells WAY older than 13 though. Big, important and delicious.

Body - Soft toffee, sweet and oily - but simultaneously sharp, tannic and very oaked. Hard pears, strawberry laces, sawdust. With water, a touch of funk, some pipe tobacco, more toffee.

Finish - Sharp, lots of wood sours, unbalanced but very exciting. We're chewing staves at the end though, ouch.

Again, loved the nose on this but the delivery is young and brutal.

SMWS 46.36, Old Fashioned Manhattan, Glenlossie, 23 years old, 54.9% B⊕

16th September 1992, 252 bottles, refill bourbon

20160202_184213Nose - Herbal depth, restrained sweetness, a little orange sour - musky marmalade? A pollen top note in there. Obviously old but with lacking the class that the others had. Some petrol, new plastic, perhaps mouthwash. Much better fruit and integration with water.

Body - Sweet, dusty, plywood and refreshers. Fizzing but soft, saccharine sweetness, and quite ordinary. More wood, more flowers, and milk tart with water.

Finish - Quite long but knocking down to sour tannins at the end and a ton of oak.

A strange whisky, swinging between old and dignified, and young and unbalanced. It's certainly drinkable but it's badly judged in the delivery. Not a fan.

SMWS 50.74, Lazing on a summer afternoon, Bladnoch, 25 years old, 53.3% A+

26th January 1990, 108 bottles, refill bourbon

20160202_185826Nose - Initially young and sour, but with an older wax beneath. Coconut ice, fresh sweat, malted barley, hot radiator, ruby grapefruit and a touch of red wine cask. It's good but I wouldn't have called it as an old Bladnoch. A touch of damp newspaper with water, bigger fruit though.

Body - Sweet and sharp again, toast and honey, toffee musk. Deep, winey, wood dust and lovely wax with a good, restrained sulphur backing. Rather delicious but quite sharp. Much more fruit with water, lots more cardboard.

Finish - Medium to long, Cherry Tunes, extremely "boiled sweets" but with great structure and lots of red wine.

What is it with low outturn society Bladnochs? Clumsy with the casks?

This is nowhere near as important as some of the recent society 50s, it's a good dram - good depth, lots of structure, lots of interesting bits and peices in there - but not worth the price being asked.

SMWS 71.41, Curious and intriguing, Glenburgie, 17 years old, 57.2% A⊕

26th May 1998, 720 bottles, refill Gorda

20160202_192402Nose - Dry and nutty, quite cereal, with a fried raisins, sherry vinegar and demerara sugar dressing. Very cooked, restrained sweetness, a touch of sulphur and smoke. Charred sweetness but doused in vinegar - the sweet and sour balance is rather good though. Sweeter and fruitier with water. Caramel and dried orange.

Body - Very salty, nutty, fried and dressed with vinegar again. Pure refill Gorda though, this is very similar to the Gorda Springbank (27.107, To the Manor Born) but that's just showing how powerful these casks are. Very drying, lots of nuts, quite a lot of sulphur but it works.

Finish - Massive tannins (might be my palate today I'm starting to suspect). Quite hot with sulphur but that works well with the enormous wine.

This is a big, superdry, Gorda bomb. This has very little to do with Glenburgie, but the dry sherry and sulphur works really well, and if you're missing that old Springbank you should jump on this.


SMWS 73.71, A scene from Madeira, Aultmore, 14 years old, 55.5% A⊕

24th September 2001, 522 bottles, refill sherry

20160202_194650Nose - Deeply sweet with Brazil nuts and permanent markers. Christmas cake (including marzipan and royal icing), baked plums, cherry tobacco, fresh peaches. Very spirity but also very rich. Cherry imps and a touch of parmas in the empty glass. Delicious.

Body - Fizzing and powerful. Madeira wine even? Burnt newspaper and black pepper, very oily and mouthfilling. Great balance of sweet sherry, rich cake and toasty raisin.

Finish - Fizzing tannins. Quite long, a touch of sulphur, liquorice imps.

Big and balanced, lots of sweet sherry and structure, delicious. Sweeter than the Glenburgie certainly, and the winner so far.


B4.1, Comforting coconut, bountiful banana, FEW, 3 years old, 62.6% B+

11th May 2012, 114 bottles, new charred barrel

20160202_202351Nose - Sugar, chalk, liquorice root, hard oak, and… bourbon. I can see this being knocked back at 3am with ice. A slightly musky backnote. Some good charred notes with rather a lot of water.

Body - Massive wood sours with icing sugar, lots of oak, bleh - quite nasty neat. With water, there's some tobacco and mango juice, that tropical element promised in the name comes through, the sourness now works a lot better, it is very sweet though.

Finish - Long and cloyingly sweet. Water tempers the wood.

I can’t recommend this.  It's simplistic but works ok with water (a hint of greatness in that tropical note) - terrible without.  You can read an interview with the distillery founder here.

SMWS 42.17, Beachcomber's dram, Ledaig, 9 years old, 60.9% A+

5th April 2006, 300 bottles, refill bourbon

20160202_202321Nose - Sweet, coastal austerity. Hard shelled sweets and breadcrumbs, warm white wine and new vinyl sheets. Slightly overripe. Sweetness countered by the seaside.

Body - "Whisky from the old days, this takes me back 40 years" (John). Big, sweet coastal peat, big sour refreshers, lots of white wine. Challenging, not rough, John. Delicious though.

Finish - Medium, lemon peat, lots of dirty white grape.

This is fulfilling the role that the young peaty 10 usually does. Don't add water, it subtracts the point of this big, peaty bruiser.


SMWS 3.257, Jacobite trip to the kitchen, Bowmore, 14 years old, 56% A⊕

8th May 2001, 240 bottles, refill bourbon

20160202_203902Nose - Dusty, window putty and pork crackling, candied lavender? Young, closed but complete.

Body - Grown up and exciting, like a night on the town with fags (tarry and intoxicating), girls (sweet, floral fizzers, and they're smoking fags), petrol (Ross will have driven us there), and music. There's burnt, damp newspaper and fried meats rounding off the evening.

Finish - Dusty and sweet, coal dust, a forerunner of the parma exotics that I love so much in Bowmore.

An evocative whisky. Sweet, entrancing and complete. This is what younger Bowmore should taste like. No water required.


SMWS 29.176, Splashing about in rockpools, Laphroaig, 16 years old, 58.5% A⊕

1st July 1999, 228 bottles, refill bourbon, previously a Danish release I believe.

20160202_205207Nose - Sweet bandages, roasted lemons and oysters. Very fresh and wet, refreshing almost. A touch of pickled chillis, softly sweet. Funky but lovely and clean.

Body - Quite intense; crackers and deep peat, really funky actually - pineapple and truffle honey. Beautiful, intense, sweet and fruity.

Finish - Long, beautifully balanced dusty Islay, complex and interesting.

Yet another smashing Laphroaig. Intense lemon peat, dusty oak and refreshers. Delicious.  I’m really going to have to stop buying these unfortunately, I’m running out of space.


SMWS 10.87, Sea breezes over the vernal machair, Bunnahabhain, 10 years old, 61.9% A+

25th May 2003, 192 bottles, refill bourbon

20160202_211314Nose - No peat… oops! Deodorant, oatmeal cookies, orange juice, slightly funky and rather lovely. There's a cured ham note in the nose too. Sorry 10, we should have had you earlier but I was distracted by the word "smoke" on the label, and by John, generally.

Body - Lemon drops, pastry, custard and big first fill bourbon tones (although it's refill). Big, sweet, meaty and satisfying.

Finish - Long and sweet. Tannic, lemon peat (now) and lots of oak. Good cask musk at the end.

A big, sweet, but lemon oriented dram, echoes of peat but more oaked than that.


Sunday, 31 January 2016

Garnheath XOP 41 Years Old

Another 41 year old Garnheath… maybe they were part of the same parcel?  Carn Mor had one recently, so I was very keen to try this one out.  Sadly I got to it just as it all sold out, it was only on Master of Malt so maybe it’ll show up elsewhere at some point?

Garnheath 41 Year Old 1974 (cask 11029) - Xtra Old Particular (Douglas Laing), 48.9% A⊕

garnheath-41-year-old-1974-cask-11029-xtra-old-particular-douglas-laing-whiskyNose - Deep and classy, cherry lip salve and a touch of petrol. A slightly ghostly grain edge, with marker pens and sawdust on the exhale. Sliced granary bread, some ozone. It's a very fresh, elegant nose with underlying sweetness and lots of restrained grain, tobacco, orange zest and oak. Lovely. The empty glass has deep, important cask wax, and a weird hit of recharred cask?

Body - Quite big and fruity - banana and buttercream icing, a backing of grain funk (that petrol again) and lots of wood tannins. With time a sourness starts to dominate.

Finish - Tannins dominate; fresh oak planks and stewed tea. Very long and drying.

The combination of a juicy, fruity nose, with fizzing top notes and tons of oak and big tannins in the end is very compelling, this is also a very restrained, elegant old grain, it must have been a very refill cask! That orange pith sourness in the delivery is a bit offputting though, this isn't a soft old whisky. And the wood influence is also odd; it's like it spent 41 years in a 5x refilled bourbon cask and then a day in a virgin oak cask. It is bloody delicious though.

Thanks to Douglas Laing for the sample.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Glenmorangie–Midwinters & Milsean

Had a few lined up for this post but no time like the present.  The theme was going to be… isn’t the 10 year old boring but aren’t these other ones rather good?  I really quite like the midwinters one, a proper drinker.

Glenmorangie A Midwinter Night's Dram, 43% A+

A Christmas special just gone; some bourbon, some sherry oak, NAS.

glenmorangie-a-midwinter-nights-dram-whiskyNose - Gentle but very sweet, intensely jewelled with lovely cask musk. Vanilla sponge, buttercream, orange icing and orange matchmakers. Cherry lipsalve. A lovely, cosy nose, really juicy.

Body - Fresh, orangey, some zippy citrus and quite a lot of spice. Juicy though, quite refreshing.

Finish - Complex orange oils and big oak, but it does fall apart a little in the finish - a simplicity and lack of body.

Bearing in mind the price point and audience for this, I can forgive the one dimensional finish and lack of midrange, I love the fat citrus oil on the nose. Delicious.

Glenmorangie Private Edition VII Milsean, 46% A+

Following on from Tùsail, this seventh private edition release is finished for 2.5 years in Portuguese red wine barriques.

glenmorangie-milsean-private-edition-whiskyNose - Sweet (boiled sweets, seaside rock), not winey at all, but with a sharpness like deodorant and refreshers. Something slightly herbal, almost medicinal in here too. Pretty delicious though.

Body - Soft, warm but also sharp, big citrus bitterness behind a deep winey sweetness (plenty of midrange this time). Quite compelling although a bit weird (that sharp bitterness, with the meaty edge isn't very Glenmorangie).

Finish - Long and slightly meaty - charred pork in there with red wine cask, refreshers and what strikes me as a touch of peat… very odd.

This is a bit more challenging than I'd expected, not as universally sweet as billed. I think the Midwinters dram is sweeter (and more drinkable). Reasonably compelling, I'd go for it.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Octomore 7.4 and friends

This is the first *.4 Octomore. It's .1 for bourbon cask, .2 for wine cask, .3 for local barley (always good) and .4 now for virgin oak casks (I assume). There's been casks of virgin oak Octomore knocking about at the distillery for a while which visitors have been given previews of (I tasted it here) but now it's made it to the mainstream. I thought the full term virgin oak was a bit odd (good but odd) and I guess Adam Hannett thought something similar as full term virgin oak only makes up 25% of the vatting for 7.4. The other 75% is made out 3 year old classic first fill ex-bourbon cask Octomore, which is then finished for 2 years in virgin oak, then a final 2 year finish in first fill bourbon, making this a 7 year old Octomore (they're usually 5 years old except for a single release of 10 year old a while back, see below). Also, two trips through two different first fill bourbon casks isn't something I've heard of before. That's a LOT of bourbon influence.

Anyway, these Octomore bottles are a packaging masterpiece. So authoritative… I reckon they ship cooling rods for nuclear power stations in this kind of packaging. 04.2 was my favourite.

Other Octomore reviews: Discovery, 06.3, 07.2, distillery only things here, 04.1, 04.2, 05.1, 06.1 here, Elements of Islay Oc1 here.  The first one has the review of the single cask virgin oak that 07.4 isn’t.

Octomore 07.1, 208ppm, 59.5% A⊕+

bruichladdich-octomore-07point1-5-year-old-whiskyNose - It's a beautiful thing. Blisteringly sweet and white winey, with sour top notes like raspberries have. Dusty Love Hearts, cheap vanilla ice cream and lemon sorbet. But this intensity is all knitted together by that restrained Octomore funk, which is so revolting in the new make but makes the matured whisky.  With water, that funk is bordering on public toilets but it works so well. It's a fine line though, it must be terrifying vatting Octomore for release…

Body - Sweet, winey fireworks, sherbet and ice pops. Meat and oak. Very yellow. Just delicious with water. The peat isn't that forward, and I would have called this as a wine cask finish (but I suck at blind tasting). Sweet, balanced by acidity and peat.

Finish - Long, burning, fizzing and ripe. Lemon drops. With water, just so gentle and delicious. Sweet, clean and winey.

This is a gentle, almost elegant, but simultaneously quite intense whisky. I wonder if the high peat levels numb the mouth, like Sechuan peppercorns do with Sechaunese food, allowing you to eat more chilli. It's bloody good either way, and totally still available.  Buy now!

Octomore 10 years old, 80.5ppm (bless!), 50% A⊕

Thanks Jon for opening his bottle of this and splitting it with the faithful!

bruichladdich-octomore-10-year-old-whiskyNose - Elegant, sweet and clean! So much cleaner than the 07.1 but also lacking some its power. What it gains though is milk chocolate, refreshers and ozone. More dirty with water, slightly charred, and with time, a real Biltong note to it.

Body - Sweet, rich and chocolatey, and more obviously peated - more raw peat - than the 07.1. Delicious though, with Marlboro lights and chocolate bonbons. More fetid with water.

Finish - Long, sweetly oaked, slightly lemony, a touch of deodorant.

Balanced and zesty throughout, but gently warm, rich and toffeed too. A real glugger. Water takes the edge off the elegance to be honest, turns it into some more simple and a bit broken.

Octomore 07.4, 167ppm, 61.2% A⊕

20160121_160751Nose - On the inhale, it's all sweet deodorant, Octomore funk, wine and a big cask wax that I've never had before in an Octomore (that could be the 7 years, perhaps it’s the trip through two different first fill casks for 75% of the whisky). On the exhale it's all Balcones Brimstone; burnt post oak and rabbit food pellets. It's not as obvious as Brimstone though, this is a much slower matured whisky and certainly not as brutal, and the sweet toffee backing is pure Scotch. I really like it… but the overall effect is very American. In some ways it's also like the Wasmunds single malt where you can really taste the influence of the cherry and oak chips the malt was dried under the influence of. But again, that Octomore funk really knits all sorts of crazy intensity together. Complex, BBQed, dirty, well integrated, very different. With water, a little gentler I suppose, ice lolly sticks and a touch of sugary meat in with the 'Q.

Body - Heavily oaked Chardonnay, burning oak chunks, burning bracken, dark toffee, blackcurrant travel sweets. Red wine cask with its dark fruits, intense oak tannins. It falls apart a bit with water, it knocks the midrange and some of the point out of this bruiser.

Finish - Long, palate destroying wood smoke, lots of dark black coffee, sweet and spicy.

This is a great whisky, perhaps even an important whisky. This has moved Scotch so far out of bounds that it makes me think more of craft American spirits than Islay, let alone Scotland. The virgin oak and "almost virgin" first fill bourbon has had such a profound effect that even the intense peating and Islay terroir are firmly pushed to one side… but still the talent and care taken at Bruichladdich are not lost. But is it Scotch? I don't know, it's bloody good though.

I do like Brimstone though.

I'm building up an Octomore blend which isn't ready yet. So far it has Discovery, 12 year old d'Yquem and 5yo virgin oak cask from the distillery, 04.2, 06.3 and 07.2 in it.  It has a sweet, pure refreshers and very dirty nose, almost modelling clay. It's pretty harsh on the delivery though, lots of neat tobacco and licked joss stick. I'll keep adding to it…

Aberfeldy 16 years old

A recently added addition to the core range, this is one of those obviously high quality malts that’s just a pleasure to drink.  In fact, quite a lot of the Last Great Malts range has been pretty awesome – the Craigellachie and Aultmores were all fantastic, Royal Brackla I need to get to but I know them well from SMWS bottlings. 

Aberfeldy 16 years old, 40% A+

aberfeldy-16-year-old-whisky[1]Nose - In a word; classy. Ah it’s refreshing to nose non-single-cask-cask-strength whisky occasionally! Delicately floral and fruity (ripe peach, cut sweet cherry), very fresh and juicy, and a lovely cask character - warm and woody, lightly waxed. Deliciously sweet and very attractive.

Body - Light and elegant, fresh and well rounded. Some white chocolate, a hint of cut rosemary, restrained blonde oak.

Finish - Gently wooded with fresh tannins and a kiss of grapefruit bitterness. Drying enough at the end to bring you back for another taste.

This is an elegant, gentle whisky that has a lovely balance of flavours. One for a large measure in a cut-glass tumbler over a long, interesting conversation. Recommended.