Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Some older Glendronachs

Following on from my vertical back in September, here’s some older Glendronachs that have been building up chez Cops.  Happy new year!

Glendronach 18 year old, Tawny Port Finish, 46% B

glendronach-18-year-old-tawny-port-cask-finish-whiskyNose - Initial impressions are disappointing - oddly sour, cereal and new makey for an 18 year old. Some strawberry, strawberry leaf, then some earth, and the whisky starts to open up.  Some hard oak, lacquer, then finally some patisserie notes make a very welcome entrance.  Buttered cocktails, flapjack, puff pastry and buttered new potatoes.  It’s a really odd combination of Glendronach fun and earthy, pastry, and oddly young on the nose.  With water, loads more fruit but still so young.  I would have called this for a 6-8 year old.

Body - Spirity, young, a little spicy and quite wooded with light raspberry and unripe pear.

Finish - Medium, spirity, a little chocolate.  Bitter with water.

What’s not good about it - Very young and austere, not what I was expecting at all.

What’s good about it - It has depth and richness if you dig.

Thanks to Craig at Green Welly for the sample!

Glendronach 21 Year Old, Parliament, 46% A⊕

There’s a nasty rumour going around that this is being discontinued.  It’s still available at Abbey Whisky - if you want it, I’d pick one up sooner rather than later! 

glendronachparliament21yeara-759x1024Nose - Dark, sweet, wooded and ripe.  Balanced and fresh still, with marker pens, strawberry, rich milk chocolate, a touch of sandalwood and a slightly musky note like a Spanish ham. With time, lots of fruit wax develops.  Lovely but for all that, a little lacking in complexity.

Body - Bright, balanced, deep and intense raisin and dark, but balanced, heavily lacquered wood.  Quality street chocolates.  

Finish - Deep, fresh sherry.  Very well balanced.  Quite long, a little spicy and good mouth coating oils.  Finally, some balancing sulphur.

What’s not good about it - I’m not sure it’s better than the 15 but maybe that’s got something to do with the dormant period at Glendronach?

What’s good about it - Loads of sherry bomb on the nose but lots of structure and interest in the delivery - a tough trick to pull off.  

Out of stock most places at the moment but will be back in stock in January.

Glendronach 1994, 19 Year Old PX Puncheon #326, 53.5% A⊕+

grnob_1994v8Nose - Brighter and more waxy than the Parliament.  Spicier on the nose too, with more earth and gunpowder to it. Much earthier in fact, complex rich and fruity, with ripe plum, a little fresh cut raspberry and tomato. And dried earth on new potatoes.  With water, more orange juice and waxier.  Lacquered bookcase in fact.  Beautiful.

Body - Sweet, very sweet and intense.  Toffee apple, orange juice and sulphur.  Lovely.  With water, that earthy note comes through.

Finish - Very long, very intense, great balanced sulphur and a little menthol, then toffee.  With water, opens up even more and is seriously long, oily, and complex.  

What’s not good about it - You can’t know how good this is before it’s sold out.

What’s good about it - Complex, balanced, intense and simply beautiful. I can’t recommend this enough.

Thanks to Cuan for the sample!

Glendronach Oloroso Butt #23, for Whiskybase, 21 Year Old, 52.1% A+

15/01/1993 to 10/2014.

1524202_506048006164255_7241120775984394842_oNose - Dry cereal, coca cola, meaty, dark brown sugar and a hint of sulphur.  Some minerality, and a little apple juice.  Quite grown up but not too complex.

Body - Massively sweet Oloroso, good structure though.  Typical rum and raisin - but balanced and lightly spicy.  With water, more rounded, certainly more cereal and some sour wood starts to develop.

Finish - Long, sulphured and spicy but mellow.  Great balance throughout - you couldn’t ask for a more polite sherry bomb.

What’s not good about it - Lacks complexity

What’s good about it - Scratches all sorts of itches, big sherry hit without being over the top or one dimensional.

Thanks to Sjoerd for organising a bottle split on this one.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Peated Malts of Distinction Tweet Tasting

Here’s a selection of peated malts that Beam Suntory have grouped together and are marketing as their Peated Malts of Distinction.  We tasted these during another cracking tweet tasting from the whisky wire under the #peatedmalts hashtag.


A couple of controversial whiskies in here; The Laphroaig Select, a NAS whisky which has upset a lot of whisky bloggers, and the Bowmore Small Batch which has upset me.  In both cases, the whisky is a younger, milder version of a much loved distillery which, on top of being NAS, doesn’t have the same complexity as age statemented versions.  With the Laphroaig, I couldn’t see what the problem was, and enjoyed the gentle sweet peat and easy drinking ABV.  With the Bowmore, I felt almost personally affronted that they could have taken all the mid-range out of my precious Bowmore (which I’ve been drinking a new expression of every month, at cask strength from SMWS).  It doesn’t take a genius to see what the problem is here.  I guess I should re-review the Bowmore and try and remove my prejudice.  Maybe next time…

The Ardmore Legacy, 40% A+

The-Ardmore-Legacy-bottle-shotNose - Lovely light, citrus sweetness.  Good blond pine and toasted wax.  A little Kendal mint cake. Light peat and a bit of musk.  There's a real men's deodorant thing in here - floral, wood, masculine and a bit musky. Love the gentle furniture polish on the nose.

Body - Gentle oak and smoke, lightly astringent with spicy top notes and a clean, lightly toffeed delivery.  Some pear, some malted barley, some toasted oats, a hint of darkly roasted coffee.

Finish - Medium, good coffee and BBQ peat.  

What’s not good about it - Not much at this price.  Lacks intensity but that’s not it’s bag.

What’s good about it - Gentle, accessible, light and balanced.  Great value for money.  A real glugger - I’m not too upset by the ABV drop as I wasn’t too attached (yet) to the original and sometimes I want something to sip and talk over.

Connemara Original, 40% A+

First distilled in 1991. Some of the oldest distillate is soon to be launched with a Connemara 22yo

ConnemaraOriginal777TheWhiskyCornerNose - Bright, sour tropical fruit squash.  Peach, grapefruit and felt tipped pens.  Just the vaguest hint of structural peat, and some green notes like the smell of fresh cut green chillies and lots of freshly cracked black pepper. I can’t stop thinking of a Thai green curry.

Body - Soft fruit, damp tobacco, light peat, granulated sugar sweet on the tip of the tongue.  Balanced, a little austere, and quite satisfying.  A lasting impression of liquorice torpedoes.

Finish - Long, elegant peat.  Something farmyardy at the end though, like a blue cheese.

What’s not good about it - Disappointing delivery - too weak and damp.

What’s good about it - Lovely, really lovely nose - interesting, structured and tasty.  The finish is good too, just a weird middle.

Bowmore Small Batch, 40% A

First and second fill ex-bourbon barrels.

bowmore-small-batch-bourbon-caskNose - Gentle honey Bowmore on the nose.  Bright solvents, young peat, a little swimming pool, lightly floral, and a bit musky.  Dusty sweets - not the parmas, but their plain cousins in the same form factor, “fizzers”.  All quite calm and gentle though.

Body - Light, a bit weak, dusty and icing sugar.  Weak orange squash, gentle spice and a ghost of Bowmore authority.

Finish - Medium to long, competent; balanced and quite interesting, particularly at the end where the Islay reasserts itself with musky peat.  But I think I love Bowmore too much to be happy about this.  

What’s not good about it - Weak and lacks interest.  I think you’re better off with the Ardmore at this price range than pushing Bowmore down to this price.

What’s good about it - Competent and put together fine.  I’d drink this, but I’d much rather drink Laphroaig or Ardbeg 10 year old.

Laphroaig Select, 40% A+

Laphroaig Select is made up of Oloroso sherry butts, American white oak casks (non-bourbon filled), PX seasoned hogsheads, Quarter Casks & first fill Bourbon Casks.  Just about everything then!

Laphroaig-SelectNose - Bright, sweet, light but balanced peat and citrus notes.  Ozone.  Sweet sour top notes.  A hint of dark sherried sweetness, musky malt and a reassuring hand on the shoulder that points you back to the distillery.   If you dig deep enough, wax and frazzles.   And I also get beedis (funny little Indian fags).  

Body - Light, sweet, juicy malt and balanced peat.  Slightly drying and a touch over astringent, but very competent.  Some slightly unripe red cherries and sweet orange juice.  

Finish - Significant frazzles.  Loads of cloves.  Medium, longish toffee and young peat dominate but the overall lack of intensity mean this isn’t a massive problem.  

What’s not good about it - Lacks intensity.  Frazzles on the finish isn't as good as it looks on paper.

What’s good about it - Light, breakfast Islay at a ready-to-go ABV.  Quite juicy, good sweetness, nice clean sweet peat and a good clean finish.  We have a winner.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Springbank TWE Retro Label

Gotta collect them all!  Thanks Sjoerd for a taste of this one.  Curiously still in stock from release at the Whisky Show 2012 I think – why?

Springbank 1995 Cask Strength, TWE Retro Label, 56.5% A⊕

sprtwe1995Nose – Unexpectedly bright and light and dustily sappy.  Warm, rich wax, freshly planed oak planks, hair gel and elegantly balanced strawberry laces.  The oily, springer toffee lurks behind this fruit and fresh wood.  It is uncommonly fruity for a Springbank, with the dusty, tropical nose of a grand whisky.  It is seriously delicious.

Body – Bright, rich, oily tropical wood.  Elegant like an old Glenfiddich (and I’ve had a few of those recently).  Ripe fruit, a touch of sulphur and some fresh raspberry.  A bit of damp cardboard with water and good spirit sulphur comes through.

Finish – Long, a bit sour, good wood and oils.  Quite peppery.  Very moreish.

What’s not good about it – Slightly sour cereal, flat on the finish. 

What’s good about it – Enormous nose from humble openings – just unfolds and enfolds you.  Intense and complex on the nose, great sulphur and wood in the delivery.  Another winner!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Springbank Green 12 year old

A late review, thought I’d get it in before the bottle disappeared (lots to friends, don’t worry, and another held in backup). 
As I wrote before, this is a 12 year old whisky which was made with organic barley, and has been fully matured in bourbon casks.  Autumn 2015 will see a 13 year old fully in sherry casks.  The “Green” bit is because some of the ingredients aren’t organic – I can’t remember which, a technicality though.  The barley is organic, not that it matters at all to me.
Springbank Green, 12 years old, 46% A⊕+
spgreenNose – My initial reaction, with the freshly opened bottle, was joy at a more austere, pure elegant bourbon cask expression from Springbank. As this has opened up and I’ve worked through it though, my joy has deepened as the whisky has widened.  It’s certainly sappy (green, even, although I suspect next year’s sherry “green” won’t be), but unmistakably Springbank.  Apple, window putty, acrylic, sugar, almond croissant, sweet grain and barley sugar.  Lots of soft pastry, sugar mice and icing sugar, but balanced and structured.  Everything a fresh, bourbon cask Scotch should be, and pure Springbank. 
Body – Sweet, sharp, wooded arrival then a long, sweet delivery with toasted cereal, fresh musky sulphur, splints and sugar puffs.
Finish – Medium, slightly sulphured, quite light and refreshing, and then a tail of oily, pure toffee Springbank.  It’s a winner.
What’s not good about it – As a young whisky, nothing.  I look forward to the 13 year old and to enjoying many bottles of this 12 year old over the years.
What’s good about it – Fresh, balanced, complex, a touch of spirit sulphur, excellent distillery character and lovely structured sweetness.
Let’s have the 45 now, seeing as Jon was so good as to send me a drop.
Spirit of Freedom “The 45”, 45% (of course), A-
“The 45” blend consists of 45 different whiskies from across Scotland. This is being bottled following the Scottish Independence Referendum on September 18th 2014, in support of the 45% of the voting population who said “Yes".
springbank-spirit-of-freedom-45-blended-scotch-whisky-250Nose – Light, a little sweet, quite sour, some good wax, some Springbank tones of rich fruit, toffee and spirit sulphur, and quite a good ripe cherry and barley note. 
Body – Bright, good depth, like the sweetness but out of kilter obvious grain and a little heat.
Finish – Quite hot and grainy.  Quite long though. 
What’s not good about it – a bit too sour on the nose.  A bit unbalanced, and hot with the grain – but understandable at this price point.
What’s good about it – But no lack of intensity, good wax and sulphur and a good nose overall.  Obviously some good wood in here if a bit high on the grain for me.  And an absolute steal at £25.
And here, for the reader who commented on my “news” post from before, is my notes from the drinking hall at The Whisky Show where I tried the upcoming 17 year old “red” – all in sherry.
Nose – elegant, toffeed.  Body – very Springbank, lovely and strong and balanced sulphur.
There – you can see why I didn’t bother posting it before!  It did mark it out for me though, for future interest (which was the point of the note).  I’m certainly looking forward to the release in January.

I have finally reviewed the Springbank Red 17 - here

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Ballantines Tweet Tasting

I do enjoy a (very) good blended malt, so I was pleased to be up for this one, with some seriously old blends in it.  Getting a blend right is hard, but then it’s very hard to get near the balance of a well blended whisky with a single malt, particularly a single cask.

What was consistent here was what a good job they’ve done with the nose on these whiskies.  The delivery doesn’t start to make good on that promise, unfortunately, until you get to the 17 year old.

Ballantines Finest, 40% A

A NAS blended Scotch.

whisky-ballantines-finest-1000ml_1 (1)Nose - Sweet, sharp, sour, a little wax, light cereal, some hazelnuts.  Some popped rice?  Chocolate rice krispie cakes.  A touch of drying peat.  Obviously good balance.  It’s rather nice on the nose.

Body - Light, lightly sweet, gentle peat and a little apple on the tip of the tongue.  Quite disappointing and mild after the nose - almost watery in the delivery.

Finish - Very light wood, too light, but with a rather pleasant afternote of tropical wood that hints at something a bit interesting in the recipe.  It wouldn't be the first blend that hasn't lived up to it's nose - a good marker for the rest of the range though.

Ballantines 12yo 40% A

American & European oak casks with Glenburgie & Miltonduff as the signature malts.

ballantine-s-12-year-old-blended-scotch-whisky-scotland-10504766Nose - The same feel as the Finest, but more obviously intense, with good wood, wax and a slightly winey edge.  Coconut ice, sweet berries, midget gems, new plastic and ripe green apple.  The coconut ice is enormous, it’s a very good, balanced and interesting nose.

Body - Damn, this is still too light.  If this was 50% we might be onto something serious, sadly this range only goes up to 43%.  Better than the finest though.  Putting the light demeanour to one side, there’s well balanced fruit (cherry), wood (pine) and a touch of smoke.  A good level of tannins, very well blended.  

Finish - Again, short and wet.  Another let down in the delivery from a very good nose.

Ballantines 17yo, 43% A+

ballantines-17-year-old-pictureNose - The same level of intensity with the wood, fruit and sweetshop as the 12, but a sight more drying.  Even more appley, a little cheeseboard (with the wooden board), and a bit of marker pen.  The drying notes and the sweet cheese goes very well together - like oat cakes, blue cheese and quince.

Body - Finally, some body!  Great balance of peat and wood to the syrup fruit sweetness.  Glace cherry, sulphur and thyme.

Finish - Medium, a tiny bit of bandage, top notes are quite tannic.  Lingering kiwi fruit and pine.

Ballantines 21yo, 43% A⊕

The 21 Year Old has a higher proportion of whiskies matured in European oak casks compared to the rest of the range.

0003334_ballantines_21_year_old_whisky_700mlNose - Incrementally more intense, jewelled, oaked sweetness - good hot wires and wax.  And now the nose is becoming significant.  I do love the balanced intensity blends excel at on the nose.  Grown up sweets, oak furniture, dried apricot, a hint of rich peat, parsley stalks, cut tomato.  Earth and acrylic paint in the empty glass.

Body - Hazelnut chocolate, sulphur, malt vinegar, bright wax, toast and honey.  Quite chewy.

Finish - Long, very drying, toasted wood.  Liquorice allsorts at the end.  Bodes very well for what’s to come.

Ballantines 30yo, 43% A⊕+

Some of the whiskies in this blend are incredibly rare, from distilleries that are no longer in existence

ballantines-30-yo-blended-scotch-whisky-70cl-43-abvNose - Fruit bomb immediately, I’m reminded of the beloved Tomatin 30.  Sweet bright wood and ripe tropical fruit.  Wham bar and Chinese noodles.  Slightly bread and buttery - a real ham sandwich thing going on!

Body - Beautiful, balanced, intense, bright oak and wax.  Good musk and sauce.  Well balanced bitterness and smoke.  Almost a bourbon edge in there?  Beautiful sulphur structure.

Finish - Very long, old and dignified.  Balanced throughout.  You can’t beat mature blends.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Bruichladdich Micro-Provenance Series

The Micro Provenance series is unique to Bruichladdich and is conceived as an exploration into cask evolution, each individually picked by master distiller Jim McEwan to explore the fine nuances of the Bruichladdich whisky and the effects of warehousing, oak, cask and micro-climate on maturing spirit.

A few new ones of this series have been released recently, all being OB single casks, rare for Bruichladdich:


The 1985 I would love to try but is outside of my price range, the other two are just inside and I was able to split them with Jon.  No, I don’t want to encourage Bruichladdich to produce 9 year old whisky at £90 a bottle, but then I don’t want to miss it either.  Oh well…

Bruichladdich Micro-Provenance Cask 1527, 9 years old, 57.2% A-

Distilled 01.12.04, Optic barley, Quercus Robur cask, Sauternes full term (assuming d’Yquem), warehouse 11, rack R24.

mp-single-cask-scotch-whisky-2004-sauternes_0Nose – Dark, malted, sweet, much like the Cuvee E, but deeper and much more lactic.  Dusty and robust – tomato stalks.  A little petrol and quite young but has complexity with unlit cigars and soft toffee.  I quite like the juxtaposition of the too-young spirit with the full term maturation in Sauternes.  With water, lots of chocolate, but even younger.

Body – Sweet, robust wood, spicy, young arrival but veers into more interesting territory with wood shavings and peach liqueurs retronasally.  With water, sweet sour booze and more peach liqueur. 

Finish – Medium, very sweet, cloying… almost peated in its spiciness.  Extremely sweet at the end, and very oily.  The Cuvee E is a lot more gentle than this.

What’s not good about it – Too young, too young by a long way.  Doesn’t swim well.  And too expensive.

What’s good about it – Quite satisfying neat, good nose – complex and challenging and fun to sip.  I will enjoy the rest of this bottle but I won’t be rushing to buy it again.

Bruichladdich Micro-Provenance Cask 1310, 9 years old, 57.3% A+

Distilled 15.11.04, Optic barley, Quercus Robur cask, Amarone full term, warehouse 5, rack L4.

mp-single-cask-scotch-whisky-2004-amerone_0Nose – Clean, winey, really lovely malt and wine balance.  Dusty again, chalk and slate.  Young again.  With water, a bit better.  I’m reminded of Octomore with the fried BBQ meat and robust cereal influence (not that it’s new makey). 

Body – Ripe, beautifully deep port-like delivery.  Black cherries, tart tatin, lightly peated, like a gentle Bowmore.  With water, much better integrated and rather lovely – a very good wine influenced, young and feisty whisky.

Finish – Long, long and sweet, some chorizo?  Bitter grapefruit.  Very savoury, good wood spice.  Holds together a lot better than the sauternes.  Lingering pepper and sweet wood.  Good tropical burps – I thought that was an age thing?

What’s not good about it – A little one dimensional.  Overpriced.  I guess I should be looking at these as an interesting data point (which I am) but they need to sell it as a 20cl bottle for that to work for me.

What’s good about it – All you could really want from a young, winey Bruichladdich – very competent, savoury, balanced and interesting.  I’d certainly buy this again – I might not though, given the ridiculous activity at SMWS recently!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

SMWS December 2014 Outturn

When will it end!  The excellence continues, I can’t take much more of this…

I’m not sure which of these will make it onto the website, some of the Japanese malts are very limited.  Everything here is a BUY.  Just see if you like the notes or the distillery.  If you do, excellence is assured.

SMWS G12.1 “Oh so sweet”, Nikka Coffey Malt, 58.9% A⊕

Cask: Re-charred hogshead

Age: 11 years

Date Distilled: 6 March 2003

20141204_164219Nose - Light, juicy sweet red cherry. Lightly mineral, banana skin - seared banana and brown sugar. A little bit of petrol.

Body - Incredibly sweet, quite spicy, juicy and very bright, lovely oils, lots of retronasal orange juice. With water a bit more petrol.

Finish - Orange juice and stone, between a malt and a grain in depth of flavour, well balanced and good intensity.


SMWS 25.66, Rosebank, Bette Davis doing DIY, 57.8% A⊕

Cask: Refill ex-bourbon hogshead

Age: 23 years

Date Distilled: 14 November 1990

20141204_165023Nose - Restrained power, tequila/agave on the nose. Beautifully elegant malt tones, rich but restrained. Reminds me of making xmas pudding (not the cooked one, the base ingredients - lemon and orange zest). With water, the raw chopped almonds in the pudding come through and candied peel. No dark flavours from the cooked pudding though.

Body - Incredibly bright, orange zest. Quite spicy. With water, much more rounded, but still extremely powerful.

Finish - Long zesty oils, very powerful and bright. Surprisingly intense. A highly challenging and fascinating whisky, but not exactly luxurious.


SMWS No. 1.183, A vibrant Enigma!, Glenfarclas, 49.8% A⊕+

Cask: Refill ex-bourbon hogshead

Age: 48 years

Date Distilled: 7 July 1965

20141204_170117Nose - A beautiful sherried colour for a refill bourbon - what year did this have bourbon in it?  Could have been the 50s! Unsurprisingly intense but not overdone on the nose. Woody herbs, hedge, raisin, sushi rice and konbu, old wood. There's something fungal here, with damp, old, fallen tree, stewed tea, windfall apples and pritt stick.

Body - Amazing and intense sweetness, bright apple and pear, very floral, almost like air freshener at the end of the delivery.

Finish – Very, very long, lingering metallic notes, like licking a coin. Then long, long wood sweetness and sap. A remarkable whisky, not over wooded. Beautiful.

BUY if you can stretch to it, it's a bargain at £489 for a 48 year old of this intensity.

SMWS 24.127, Northern Lights, Macallan, 47.7% A⊕+

Cask: Refill ex-bourbon hogshead

Age: 23 years

Date Distilled: 16 April 1991

20141204_171525Nose - Austere, oaky, acrylic paint, malty, peachy - very rich and thick, like a hobnob biscuit. Beautiful toffee malt sweetness. Lovely.

Body - Ripe peach and orange, balanced and toffeed. Quite light but persistently sweet.

Finish - Peach stone, balanced and gentle, orange juice and zest. Lovely.


SMWS 5.42, Bathed in a bakers shop, Auchentoshan, 59.5% A⊕

Cask: Refill ex-bourbon hogshead

Age: 13 years

Date Distilled: 11 October 2000

20141204_172542Nose - Sweet and lightly dusted malt. Tile cement, window putty, fresh growing barley and blueberry muffin.

Body - Bright, spicy, lemon toffee, then really spicy and a bit one dimensionally sweet. Water opens it right back up though, bringing out the elusive waxy, woody note I'm getting more and upping the integration.

Finish – A really lovely wax and sulphur note develops, lingers and comes back in waves. With water, a very long finish, great sweetness and integration.

Lovely - another Auchentoshan buy. If this wasn't in such epic company….


Cask No. 124.5,  Juicy fruits and spicy oak, Miyagikyo, 66.7% A⊕⊕

Cask: First fill hogshead

Age: 23 years

Date Distilled: 12 Dec 1990

20141204_173448Nose - Deep, deep fruit, dark cherry toffee and cherry cake. Rich, rich, beautiful balanced sherry. Amazing. Even better with water on the nose, even more complexity and waxy wood, and clean new planed oak furniture. Wow. The empty glass gives intense prunes.

Body - Ripe, bright wood, oily, bright and fruity as well as being dark, loads of chocolate coconut. Intensely oily and toffeed.

Finish - Really long, sweet, dense toffee wood, sweet, sweet varnish. Pineapple burps. But very balanced - some of the most intense, balanced whisky I've ever tasted. Amazing.


SMWS 120.7, Sweet, fragrant and satisfying, Hakushu, 55.5% A⊕+

Cask: First fill Bota Corta butt

Age: 14 years

Date Distilled: September 2009

20141204_174621Nose - Ripe but restrained, overripe fruit and dark sherry. Very sherried but not overdone on the nose. A little musky, with bright deodorant notes in there. Beautiful, even if it's a very tough act to follow the 124.

Body - Lovely, long, gentle development, with the dark toffeed fruits and the sherry is very well integrated.

Finish - Long, lingering, balanced sweetness. Again, intense but very polite. Lovely stuff (quite like The Whisky Exchange sherried balblair). This is a seriously lovely whisky.


SMWS 4.199, Boy scouts and bikers, Highland Park, 56.2% A⊕+

Cask: First fill ex-bourbon barrel

Age: 14 years

Date Distilled: 15 October 1999

20141204_175610Nose - Back to blighty. Sweet cereal, unripe melon, fresh cut flower stalks and deep down, some sweet nut toffee.

Body - Fabulously sweet, unexpectedly so given the austere nature on the nose. A kick of spice but it's all so wonderfully integrated. An extremely good delivery.

Finish - Very long, ripe and a slight structural hint of peat balancing the intense sweetness, with long ripe fruit coming through finally and some great tropical notes from the wood component. Just wonderful on the delivery, perhaps a little closed on the nose.


SMWS 2.91, Buck’s Fizz and Gewurtztraminer, Glenlivet, 61.1% A⊕

Cask: Refill ex-bourbon barrel

Age: 12 years

Date Distilled: 16 April 2002

20141204_180705Nose - Much lighter than the previous whiskies but still a lovely warm, waxy malt - yet another cracker. Some deodorant in there, floral and nicely wooded, just a hint of spirit sulphur. With water, the titular white wine comes through and some drier, earthier notes.

Body - Bright wham bar, balanced but very sweet, with gentle mint chews and a touch of earth.

Finish - Long, balanced, beautiful. Lingering toffee. A beautiful, gentle, but deeply sweet dram, lovely balance and an absolute cracker.


SMWS 119.13, Fathoms deep, Yamazaki, 60.2% A⊕

Cask: 1st fill bourbon

Age: 11 years

Date distilled: May 2003

149 bottles

20141204_182007Nose - Younger cereal, top notes of sweet, soft toffee. Fried parsley. Pith.

Body - Young and intense, but deep and seriously wooded. Quite spicy. A really delicious delivery.

Finish - Very long, oily, oaky, spicy but clean. Oiled wood working tools. Long and intense, with the profile of a very old whisky and the fire of a much younger whisky. Remarkable.


SMWS 120.8, A surge of sweet peat, Hakushu, 63.1% A⊕+

Cask: 2nd fill hogshead

Age: 13 years

Date Distilled: December 2000

20141204_182904Nose - Bright, gentle cherry with a lovely peated edge. Ripe conference pear. Varnished pine furniture and pecan chunks for smoking. Balanced, polite and beautifully put together. Strikingly fruited and cakey.

Body - Spicy. Beautifully sweetly waxed. More cherry, loads of candle wax. Absolutely beautiful.

Finish - Long, sweet soft toffee, deep fruit and wax. Dark, dark and elegantly peated. A total cracker.


SMWS 3.234, Scallops cooked on a puffer shovel, Bowmore, 57.5% A⊕

Cask: Refill ex-sherry butt

Age: 16 years

Date Distilled: 25 September 1997

20141204_184644Nose - Bright, seaside toffee, seaweed and light peat. Quite restrained. Some rope, some drift wood, some ozone, the merest hint of peat, you get the idea. This is quite closed in the bottle though, big hopes for this once opened up…

Body - Oh man… beautiful refill sherry Bowmore. Fizzing refreshers, parma violets. Floral.

Finish - Very dry, massive tannins, coastal, balancing sweetness and pot pourri, lingering herbal notes and classical Bowmore.

This is unexpectedly old for its age, I would have pegged this as a 20 something on the delivery.


SMWS 53.216, BBQ in pine-clad dunes, Caol Ila, 60.6% A⊕

Cask: Refill ex-sherry butt

Age: 21 years

Date Distilled: 13 July 1993

20141204_185356Nose - Light - some plastic cement, marker pens. Spent fireworks. Old wet burnt wood and coffee. And very bright and fruity in its own way - peach tea.

Body - Now it's intensely peated, with burnt pine needles, burning oak and deep rooted, ancient sweetness.

Finish - Long, long and loads of cigarettes and wood. Reasonably brutal but very satisfying.


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

SWMS 53.207–Caol Ila–Cod wrapped in Parma ham

The other (sherried) Caol Ila from the enormous November outturn. 

SWMS 53.207, Caol Ila, Cod wrapped in Parma ham, 20 years old, 58.7% A⊕

Refill sherry butt, 572 bottles.

SMWS-0053-207NNose – Very sweet, gentle cereal, classic Caol Ila.  Heavily peated but even handed.  Ripe apple, marshmallow, hot dogs and a little steel wool.  More sweet wax with water.

Body – Shockingly sweet but balanced by intense oil and granite.  Seared cod wrapped in Parma ham (can’t deny it).  Toast and salted crisps.  With water, more integrated and a touch of wax comes through.

Finish – Refreshers.  Very long, oily and cereal sherry.  Toffee.  Weetabix.  Travel sweets and lavender with water.

What’s not good about it – Rather angular and lumpy in it’s delivery – there are gaps and the overall feel is intense and lacking a little integration. 

What’s good about it – Intense, balanced and seriously delicious.  Fascinating mineral balance on the nose and epic Caol Ila fun throughout.  Despite being an “industrial” distillery aimed at producing Islay peat for blends, the single late teen, 20+ year old casks SMWS have been releasing are spectacular.  You just can’t go wrong picking one of these up.

Thanks to Sarah at SMWS for the sample.

Springbank 1996, Cask #263

Available from time to time in auctions, this sounded amazing – thanks Sjoerd for the sample of this Springbank sherry bomb!

Springbank 1996, Cask #263, 54.9% A⊕

610 bottles.  This was distilled in 1996 then specially bottled in 2009 for Hanseatische Weinhandelsgesellschaft, Bremen (Hanseatic Wine Trading Company apparently, thanks Klaus!).

springbank-1996-cask-263Nose – Deep, rich wax and ripe black cherries.  Dusty oak and really dark sherry, crayons and school hallways.  Deeply feminine – roses, lip gloss and very sweet.  With water, becomes more simply feminine, adds more school floor polish but loses none of it’s allure.  A serious, expansive and balanced nose.

Body – Sweet, dusty wine and sherry, quite spicy and slightly vegetal, retronasally tropical.  With water, toast and sherry and hotter sulphur. 

Finish – Long, oily (of course), ripe and fecund with engine oil, mango, orange, cough sweets and more crayon.

What’s not good about it – Rather obviously sherried on the delivery, which descends a little into bitterness with water.

What’s good about it – Seriously impressive nose, balanced and enticing delivery, good sulphur balance.  Tropical burps.  A glorious whisky. 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

SMWS B3.1–A little box of treasures - Rocktown Bourbon

Someone said it’s been a decade since the last SMWS bourbon, way before my time certainly.  I tried one at Joe’s (final?) leaving drinks at SMWS Greville Street (Heaven Hill, cask 5) and it was seriously good.

December is shaping up to be a blockbuster outturn for both breadth and depth, with lots of Japanese casks, the oldest ever SMWS bottling and a “long lost friend from a closed distillery”… and this new bourbon. On the back of the 50 odd in November it’s been quite an expensive xmas so far!  This is in the December preview – wait until Friday for the full outturn.

SMWS B3.1, A little box of treasures - Rocktown Bourbon, 3 years old, 53.9% A+

15 July 2011, 238 bottles.

B3dT1RHCIAADMZQNose – Sweet vanilla, mineral oak, lilies, seaside rock sweet, driftwood and tobacco.  With water, separates into charred oak, granite and flowers.

Body – Intensely sweet.  Ripe cherries, fresh oak cask, and coconut.  With water, fresh, floral tones come through, it really opens up, with the sweet floral elements balancing out with the wood.  Too much water though, and the youth shows and it becomes bitter.

Finish – Long, long and sweet.  Toffee, a little banana and finally, coconut ice.  With water, some clean oak lingers.

What’s not good about it – Still young.  Lack of integration generally and hard to find the right balance with water. 

What’s good about it – Very complex for a whisky of this type and age, even if that doesn’t quite hang together.  Quite a challenging, perfumed, almost Asian nose in some ways, which really sets it apart from most bourbons.  Very interesting.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Arran Bere Barley, 2nd Edition

“We are one of only a handful of distilleries that use bere barley as it is notoriously difficult to grow,” commented Euan Mitchell, managing director of Isle of Arran Distillers. “However, for those who can persevere, it can produce an outstanding malt, as is the case with this highly-anticipated new release.”

This is the second release of Arran’s malt made with this tough strain of barley. 

Arran Bere Barley, 2nd Edition, 10 years old, 56.2%, A⊕+

arrob.2004v1Nose – Sweet granite, cherry lipsalve, ozone, deeply malty, enormously earthy – like digging in summer soil with your hands.  Cut summer grass, sunshine.  What an inopportune time to release this, and what an absolutely fabulous, sweet and dry nose.  With water, the mineral note becomes even more pronounced, and drops a touch of the soil and – this is going to sound odd – is like a baby’s breath.  Sweet with calpol, unsullied with food between teeth, a little lactic and very clean.

Body – Like gunpowder neat, right up the nose with party poppers, sweet toffee apple and burning wood.  Incredibly Autumnal.  How strange!  With water, more peppery and spicy in the side of the mouth.

Finish – Long, appley and more bonfire night burnt wood and toffee apple.  A lingering, delicious, fiery edge.  It’s a very long finish with water or without and the final notes are of wood – structural, lightly tropical, and very fine.

What’s not good about it – This isn’t a typical Arran by a long stretch.  If this is the effect of the strain of barley, it’s very pronounced.  Do not buy this expecting citrus toffee and other wonderful Arran tones.

What’s good about it – Fascinating, balanced, intense, earthy, seasonal, and cask strength.  This is an epic release that would have passed me by if I hadn’t had the sample.  It’s an instant buy.  Arran are going places.

Thanks to Arran for the sample!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Compassbox–GKS and the Lost Blend

The Lost Blend is the latest signature blend from craft whisky blenders Compassbox, and caused quite a stir at the whisky show this year.  I’ve not covered the Great King Street set yet so this is a good opportunity to hit these, as well as the new blend.

Compassbox Great King Street - The Artist’s Blend, 43% A⊕

A  marriage of delicate Lowland grain and robust, complex Highland malt whiskies.

High quality oak, high proportion of malt and high quality grain.  Natural presentation.  

gks_largeNose - Immediately fabulous.  You have to try very hard to beat the nose on blends and this is a good one.  Dusty warm wax, floral floor polish, bags of ripe peaches, jelly snake sweets, custard tarts with candied lavender, warm, comforting and beautiful.

Body - Dry, then sweetly oaked, floral and just slightly peated.  A faint note of wet cardboard takes the edge off the opulence.

Finish - Long and floral, some apple and spicy oak.  Good oils and lingering balance.

What’s not good about it - The initial delivery doesn’t quite deliver the fruit bomb I was kind of expecting, but that’s more initial expectation management than a flaw.

What’s good about it - What a nose - phenomenal floral wax and fruit at this price point (or any).  The balance is pitched just right (of course) and the overall experience is considered and well delivered.  This is a wonderful blended whisky.

Compassbox Great King Street - Experimental Sherry 00-V4, 43% A⊕

I tried this and the V6 in The Whisky Exchange out of one of those small disposable shot glasses.  They really need to stop using those, it didn’t do this whisky justice at all.

gks_v4_largeNose - A very similar feel to the Artist’s Blend - a touch deeper on the sweetness, a touch more balancing peat on the nose.  Again, lovely wax and fruit, with a hint of jammy dodgers and glace cherry and a tiny bit of something meatier - tomato stew and tomato leaf, with long cooked bay.

Body - Sweet and brightly smokey - a real belt of bacon in here which repeats into the finish.  More cardboard, but overall a richer delivery that the Artist’s.

Finish - Long, sweetly spiced, toffee pennies and toasted sesame bar.  It’s perfectly balanced again.

What’s not good about it - If this is really the sherried one I’m not getting much sherry.  The nose on the artists is more expensively waxed.

What’s good about it - Rich, balanced and quite serious.  A better delivery than the Artist’s.  A good sessioner too, plenty to get involved with here.

Compassbox Great King Street - Experimental Smoke 00-V6, 43% A+

gks_tr06_largeNose - The peat dimension played nicely on top of the V4, with a balanced, rich but gentle cereal backing across the nose.  Sweet seafood, a touch of rope and now some fried raisins (as in pilaf) adding depth.  A sherried Caol Ila in there?

Body - Sweet, gentle peat and icing sugar.  Like a Big Peat turned down a few notches and balanced into a more toffeed, grainy blend.  

Finish - Medium and very Islay.  Straying into bitterness and an uncharacteristic faltering in balance at the end. 

What’s not good about it - The delivery isn’t one thing or the other, it’s overly sweet Islay and that’s good fun but I’m not sure when I’d turn to it.  The finish doesn’t hang together as expertly as its mate’s.

What’s good about it - Love the nose, really captures the sweet Caol Ila thing well while balancing it into something more gentle and considered.  Obviously still a very good blend.

Compassbox Great King Street - Glasgow blend, 43% A⊕

gks_gb_largeNose - The big, deep sweet nose is back with dusty toffee and floor polish to the front, backed off to bitter Islay peat.  Orange juice, dried orange peel, almond, shortbread and fresh marlboro lights tobacco.

Body - More pronounced peat, a little thin on the tip of the tongue but very good retronasal oils, wax and juicy orange with a drying, balancing wack of woody, herbal peat.

Finish - Medium, quite light but then lingering tobacco, peat, wood, wax and raisins.  Some bitterness but balanced with oils and syrup.

What’s not good about it - At a push, the integration isn’t quite there between all these elements.  But splitting hairs.

What’s good about it - Very complex, very interesting, excellent balance.  Most impressive.  The intense nose, light juicy delivery and rich finish is a very moreish combination.

Compassbox The Lost Blend, 46% A⊕

The first single malt blend from Compassbox was Eleuthera.  One of the component malts became unavailable, so the blend was retired.  John Glaser, “whiskymaker” at Compassbox, found a replacement and created this blend containing Clynelish, late teens Allt-a-bhainne and Caol Ila. 

When I was more involved in bands and music I used to be able to listen to any music and be able to dissect it, understand what was involved in producing it.  John Glaser must be the same with blended whisky. 

gks_lb_largeNose - Beautifully waxed, glace cherry, strawberry laces and tropical fruit juice.  Very ripe and deeply sweet, just the merest hint of balancing smoke.  The nose speaks of lots of age, excellent wood and total control of composition and balance.  

Body - Rich, ripe, deeply toffeed and incredibly intense and balanced.  Slightly sour tropical juice with a backbone of peat, apple pips and wet wood.

Finish - Swings between wet wood, peat and tropical fruit juice.  A little on the short side, but balanced throughout.  Lingering Islay peat right at the end.

What’s not good about it - That sour note in the tropical juice on the palate is an off note in an otherwise very well played chord.

What’s good about it - Phenomenal nose of big, old single malt.  Fascinating, intense, ripe and juicy.  Fabulous stuff.

Thanks to Compassbox for the samples!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Glenfiddich Gallery Tasting

This was a press launch I attended on behalf of Tom Thomson – the launch of Glenfiddich Gallery, a luxury bespoke whisky experience site, iPad app and digital experience that (if you’re rich enough) will see you with a completely bespoke bottle of Glenfiddich.  Pick the liquid, pick the packaging, get it shipped to you.


During the launch event we were talked through the tasting of four whiskies, and I sneaked a taste of a fifth from Mark Thomson.  While the report from the event is on Tom’s blog here, I’ve put the tasting notes here on mine.  There are some really interesting whiskies here, a far cry from the ubiquitous bottle of 12, and all were very good.  Lots of warnings about this being cask strength whisky – I can handle it chaps!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Glenrothes Vintage Reserve

A new NAS Glenrothes, which launches about now in Taiwan only and should be with us in the UK some time in 2015, which is a shame as I’d definitely recommend this as a xmas dram.  It’s NAS but the casks involved have been specified in the press release (but not on the label).  Here’s the info from the press release:

Vintage Reserve comprises 10 different Vintages from the last three decades: 1989, 1992, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007.

The combination of different Vintages aged in a variety of casks creates a balanced whisky with mature experience and vibrant youth: the most venerable constituent (a full 25 years old) is Vintage 1989, bringing mellow oak and dried fruits; the greatest proportion is Vintage 1998, adding soft, mature, sweet vanilla; the more youthful vintages add exuberance and lemon citrus notes.

It’ll be on sale in Taiwan now and will launch in the UK in the new year at £39.95, and will be available from Berry Bros. and Rudd.

The Glenrothes Vintage Reserve, 40% A+


Nose – I do like mixed decade blends of casks – you get depth and complexity as well as vigour. This has that going on with light waxy wood, very juicy, lots of cereal (quite Mortlach-y in some ways) and zesty musk. Soap, cobblestones and orange juice, some toasty and honey, and some very malty (but not out of balance) new make.

Body – Juicy – lots of orange juice and clementine.  Quite xmassy, even down to the xmas tree pine notes.

Finish – Quite long, a little fizzy, lots of orange zest and some love hearts.


What’s not good about it – Feels young when the bottle’s opened, takes a while to open up.  Give it time.

What’s good about it – An excellent single malt at this price point, and I don’t really care about the NAS thing so long as the whisky works.  Love the orange juice and zest and could drink this all night.  A great one for sipping over the course of a film – not too strong, doesn’t need diluted down and lots to get into while your eyes have something else to do!

Another thing that’s very satisfying about this whisky, of course, is the bottle.  Packaging does make a difference!

Thanks to Glenrothes for the bottle.

Drinks by the dram, Christmas Crackers!

Another excellent xmas concept by Master of Malt, following on from the whisky advent calendar (and then the vodka, two types of gin, tequila, cognac and rum advents), and various xmassy bottles including a mulled wine concentrate. I’ve reviewed a lot of different things in my time (believe it or not I was briefly the PC games reviewer for smutty lads mag Front magazine), this is the first christmas cracker though.  I’ll give it my all though, as it might have whisky in it.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Springbank Sherry 17 years old–January 2015

Here’s the label for this excellent springer arriving in January 2015, which I tried and loved at the whisky show. This is as well as the Springbank Green 12 year old coming out this month and Springbank Green 13 year old coming out in Autumn 2015, reported here.  Good things to come!  Thanks to Neil MacKinnon for this photo from the Glasgow Whisky Festival 2014.

I have finally reviewed the Springbank Green 12 and Red 17 - Green is here, Red is here

sb red

Sunday, 16 November 2014

SMWS 121.74 Arran, A box of Chocs

Another little addition to the big November outturn.  I thought I had the SMWS bottle name capitalisation strategy understood until this one!

It’s been a while since the last SMWS Arran, a run I was buying most of but did skip a few, and it’s been a few months since the last one.  This one was anticipated to be popular and had a 9am Friday posted release time (with most of the others available at some random point on Thursday afternoon).  It’s sold out, come back in stock and sold out again since.  When are we going to start seeing the 17 and 18 year old SMWS Arrans?  Hopefully they’re being held back for the first 25 year old SMWS Arrans or something.

SMWS 121.74, Arran, A box of Chocs, 14 years old, 55.7% A

2 December 1999, refill bourbon hogshead, 315 bottles.

IMG_1332Nose – Sweetly perfumed, like a candle shop – very department store.  Plus some kind of tropical custard tart – pineapple and pastry.  Delicious and typically malty.  With water, the perfume dominates, and the spirit seems younger.

Body – Sweet but intensely wooded, fizzingly so and not so well integrated.  Very malted, chocolatey, and a light touch of sulphur.  With water, more refreshers but a little bit richer with well rounded cask influence.  With quite a lot of water, the sweetness starts to reassert and the whole thing comes together better.

Finish – Medium, lots of wood and malt.  Bitter wood dominates.  Water brings out tropical fruit and icing sugar sweetness. 

What’s not good about it – a little young and raw.  Neat, the experience is verging on the unpleasant in the delivery.  Quite a lot of water is required to show what this whisky is all about.

What’s good about it – quite robust for a young(er) Arran and love the tropical pineapple tones throughout. 

Thanks Stu for the share on this one!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

SMWS 27.107 Springbank, To the manor born

Imagine the excitement at a 16 year old sherried Springbank turning up in the October outturn!  Lots to live up to here, and you’re not in for a totally easy ride.

SMWS 27.107 Springbank, To the manor born, 16 years old, 56% A⊕

31st May 1998, refill sherry gorda, 759 bottles.  This is a lovely copper colour and surprisingly cloudy before water.

27.107Nose – Springbank fans will unanimously be extremely pleased with this nose.  Nut toffee, aged sherry, bright, oily, almost tropical sweetness, passion fruit and dusty, oily engines.  With water, even better – more tropical, more oil, deeply sweet.

Body – Sweet, spicy, beautifully Springbank and then suddenly… dusty and very dry sherry blows away all Springbank beauty leaving you rather crestfallen at first.  But the sulphur that immediately precedes it and the bubblegum sulphur that follows it marks out the complexity and enjoyment that you’ll come to love in due course.   With water… that does smooth out the experience.  The dusty dry sherry arrives later, significantly better integrated with the sweet oil.

Finish – The sweetness returns with echoes of the dusty disappointment and the sulphur heat.  A very long finish ensues with lots of ripe old complexity, ending in balanced, tannic sulphur. 

What’s not good about it – It’s hard not to be let down initially when your nose prepares you for a Springbank 15yo experience and you get dry sherry.  But go with it.  It’s worth it and this definitely works in the end! 

What’s good about it – The nose is Springbank perfection.  Dark, sweet and masculine.  The journey I’ve describe to you through the delivery is extremely moreish, and it’s just expectations that get in the way of initial enjoyment.  Water takes all the sharp corners off the experience, I’d almost recommend skipping trying it neat.

Friday, 14 November 2014

New Springbank releases

Official news from the Springbank Society on the new bottlings I tasted at the Whisky Show!

I have finally reviewed the Springbank Green 12 and Red 17 - Green is here, Red is here

Springbank Green

greenThis is a 12 year old whisky which was made with organic barley, been fully matured in bourbon casks and has been bottled at 46% ABV. There will be 9,000 bottles available for worldwide distribution. The retail price for the
Springbank Green is £60.00

In Autumn 2015, Springbank will release another version of the Springbank Green, again made with organic barley (preview tasting is here). This time however, it will be 13 years old and 100% matured in sherry

Official tasting notes:

Nose: This whisky has a real Springbank nose, earthy, peat with a salty coastal influence.
Palate: The palate is fruity; apricots and peaches are accompanied by buttery, creamy
nutty shortbread. This is a lip licking whisky, oily and chewy.
Finish: The finish is long, smooth and complex with a lingering sweetness and saltiness.

Springbank 25


This has been matured in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks before being married in port casks for the final few months of maturation. It has been bottled at 46% ABV and is limited to only 1,200 bottles for worldwide distribution. The price of this is £350.00.

Official tasting notes:

Nose: The nose is rich with a peated port influence. It’s redolent of the dunnage
warehouse in which it was matured. Fruity too, but this time berries to the fore:
blackberries, cranberries and strawberries.
Palate: The port wine influence is perfectly balanced with flavours of sherry, plum jam, blood oranges and pink grapefruit.
Finish: The finish is long, soft and elegant, with earthy, peaty and woody qualities.

Spirit of Freedom “The 45”

45“The 45” blend consists of 45 different whiskies from across Scotland. This is being bottled following the Scottish Independence Referendum on September 18th 2014, in support of the 45% of the voting population who said “Yes". This will retail at £25.00 per bottle