Thursday, 30 January 2014

Tomatin–The Other Bottlings Part 1

I just love Tomatin whisky – from the unbelievable bargain of the Legacy expression (their young spirit in wood is a fantastic experience on the nose and carries the trademark soft fruit and oak backbone – 94.5 Jim Murray and only £25) to the 30 year old, which was a real game changer for me.  I tried the whole core range at a tasting recently, and have been seeking out interesting other (non-core or independent) bottlings since.

Tomatin Logo

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Diageo Special Releases 2013 Tasting

Diageo Special Releases 2013 Tasting

The Diageo Special Releases started in 2001, following on from the Rare Malts bottlings, and are a yearly allocation of “something special” from Diageo’s many distillery warehouses. The 2013 release has 85,000 bottles across 10 whiskies.  Originally intended to save the whiskies from blending into lesser expressions, this has become a big deal in the whisky calendar. Some of these distilleries are closed of course. 30 years ago the world was a different place, the public didn’t want smoky whiskies and Diageo had to choose between closing Port Ellen and Lagavulin. They had no idea that the liquid going into the casks at Port Ellen would turn into such sublime liquid over the next 30 years and the distillery was closed. Lagavulin is extremely successful now of course, and we had the opportunity to try a Port Ellen and a Lagavulin from the same period. A 37 year old Lagavulin is unheard of – and this bottling is it, there’s none older in the warehouses and who knows how many decades must pass before an expression this old exists again. Brora is another closed distillery, with casks running out and only another two or three years of special releases left in it. The 2013 Brora is just incredible, the best whisky I’ve ever tasted, and at £750 it’s out of my range but very tempting. It will never be this price again.


Friday, 24 January 2014

Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength

I’ve been loosely avoiding Irish whisky in case I catch that too – here we go.

Thanks to Johnnie Stumbler for the sample!

Redbreast 12 year old cask strength, batch B1/12, 53.6% A+


Nose – Deep,. waxed, cherry malt.  Dark oak.  A bright, sour halo.  Behind this, a beautiful, tropical nose with blood orange, and really clasically balanced cherries, shortbread and glazed cereal.

Body – Extremely smooth, rich chocolate, cake, fabulous sweetness and the red fruit continues.

Finish – Long, balanced, becomes more structured as it progresses.  Ends with drying oak – very good.

What's not good about it:  Too smooth (bourbon like) – lacks structure.

What’s good about it:  Wonderful nose, great balanced sweetness, bold, delicious.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Octomore Vertical

The worlds most heavily peated whisky, the iron fist in the velvet glove, uber-experimental!  Bruichladdich’s words to describe their peat monster.  The paradox is that peat stats don’t translate directly into oral agony and that these whiskies are in many ways, actually very light and fresh. 

Bruichladdich organise their core range into a matrix, which you can see here – with peat levels on the x-axis and “something else” (either barley type, cask or .. something else) on the y-axis.  The Octomore is the “super heavily peated” column, and the current bottlings are the 6.1 in the “Scottish Barley” row, with 6.2 as the “wine finished” (this time eaux de vie) variety.  Octomore is produced once a year (this is the 6 in the Octomore 6.1) and usually matured for 5 years.  It’s produced just before the silent season, when the stills are flushed and repaired, and rightly seen as a contaminant to the cleaner whiskies produced at the front of the distilling year. 

I’ve scrounged a few samples to compare the spirit over the last three years.

Octomore 4.1, 167ppm, 62.5% A+


Thanks to Jon Webb for the sample.

Nose – Fresh, light, peated fruit (pear and cherry) with plastically sweet smoked raisins in the background.  A field hospital built round a roaring bonfire.  Reminiscent of the nose on the (very delicious) Big Peat Xmas 2013.  There’s a dampening wet paper edge though.  Quite light and supple, quite sweet and sexy.

Body – Spicy, smooth, sweet charred cedar, toasted grains, burnt toast.  Great balance, loads of sweetness.

Finish – Very long, massively numbing - particularly on the lips and gums.  Doesn’t falter but eventually stops delivering sweetness.   Washes down to Szechuan peppercorns and finally pure peat.  This tastes like it probably isn’t very good for you!

What's not good about it: The finish is a bit blunt – not really one-dimensional as it has so much going on, but its just so crushing that its hard to find elegance. 

What’s good about it:  But otherwise its very good; deep balance, obviously loads of structure, light fresh nose, doesn’t falter throughout.

Octomore 5.1, 169ppm, 59.5% A+


Thanks to Johnnie Stumbler for the sample.

Nose – Bright but forceful, slightly sour melon backed by more obvious waxed fruit.  Then there is some bold peat and nicely bright phenols.  It takes a little work at first to get through the sourness to the good stuff.  For a whisky of this calibre, the balance is a bit off.

Body – A complete surprise – rich, dark, oily, smooth compared to the 4.1, and a real blockbuster backed with a big bundle of paper ash.  Massive belt of phenols – this is what the whisky is billed as and what I was expecting it to deliver.

Finish – Long, savoury, deep and rich.  Darkly toasted cereals and deep fruit.  Finally, numbing again although not as much as the 4.  Pineapple burps.

What's not good about it: Nose is too bright, too sour – a fault of the big peats also – which makes it less luxuriant and less masculine.   

What’s good about it:  Fabulous, blockbuster body – from the arrival through to the ashen remains.

Octomore 6.1, 167ppm, 57% A⊕


Thanks to Adrian Barnett for the sample.

Nose – More bright and sour, this time with a bit of town hall on top of the orchard, and apples rather than pears.  Feels a lot more familiar and modern than the 5 for some reason, but otherwise very similar.  Smells like a 1970s first aid kit.

Body – Deep, rich fruit, loads of sweetness, beautifully balanced with delicious, massive peat, although much less numbing than before. The nose now makes sense and the body brings the whole expression together. 

Finish – Frazzles, long peat and wood, finally descends into wood bitterness.  But not yet unbalanced due to the numbing peat fire. 

What's not good about it: Sour note again although reduced and is slightly more rotten than sour. 

What’s good about it:  But all brought together by that arrival and mid-palate.  Beautifully integrated – loads of sweetness, flawless peat enormity, bags of structure. What a massive whisky!

To compare these three, I thought I’d make my own matrix.  This is the whiskies in direct comparison – the comments only make sense compared to their peers!

Whisky Nose Body Finish
4.1 Fruit, perfume, the lightest Sweet, cloying, floral, delicious Long, numbing, cough medicine
5.1 Rich, bright, sherried Dark, oily, rich, smoother Long, sweet, rich, spicy, burning
6.1 Richer, barley, muskier.  Perhaps the best nose of the three Structured, slightly austere cereal, strong barley note.  Cough medicine again.  Long, very balanced, addictive – the best finish

Hard to call a winner on the body (particularly as I can no longer feel my mouth or lips), probably the 6.1 and the 6 is definitely the overall winner for me.  All are very good though with a common thread of massive peat and structured, deep sweetness.  But look what happens when you stick the 4 in Chateau d’Yquem casks:

Octomore 4.2 “Comus”, 167ppm, 61% A⊕+


This is Octomore 4.1 finished in Sauternes casks. 

Nose – Parallel beams of bright, grapy, ultra sweet and deeply oaked Sauternes, and deeply peated, equally sweet, ashen Octomore 04.  While the producers state “it shouldn’t work”, it seems a dead cert to me with peat and sweet working so well, and Octomore being, really, a very sweet whisky.  It’s required to balance the peat.  Combined, its a deeply musky, very sexy, very well balanced nose.  Incredibly luxurious, bright, deep and oily, while being reminiscent of a large, oak log fire.  The two sweetnesses (the natural Octomore sweetness and the Sauternes) are orthogonal, are appreciated separately and in balance, and hence don’t add up to “too much”; its not cloying, it works.

Body – Again, the two dimensions of sweetness add up perfectly.  Like an excellent thai meal washed down with chilled Sauternes – stunning sweet, sour, and burnt flavours, loads of blockbuster oak and fruit.  Crucially; total poise throughout without any off notes, loss of balance or dignity.  Stunning.

Finish – Very long, deeply sensual, ripe, warming, numbing, and richly grapey.  Perfectly nobly rotted grapes in last night’s oak ashes.  Dangerously drinkable.

What's not good about it:  Auction only, and getting more expensive. Nothing else. 

What’s good about it:  Everything else.  I’d swap my car for a case of this.

In February I’ll be posting a series on independent or other special, experimental or otherwise interesting and barely available whiskies from this incredible Islay distillery.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Bruichladdich Black Art Micro Vertical

Second in a series of three explorations of Bruichladdich’s many expressions, I have two of the Black Art’s, samples kindly donated by Yoav Gelbfish.  Black Art is under “Cask Exploration” in their expression matrix, but its old too, and like all of their whiskies, very good indeed.  Its a marriage of bourbon casks plus an undisclosed set of wine casks.  Perhaps the using up of a lot of failed wine cask experiments?  If so – expert blending and marketing.  Smells and tastes like a lot of sherry and port casks in here to me.

Black Art 1 was £76 a bottle, 2 and 3 were £96 and 4 was £198, which perhaps says more about marketing and the market than the quality or intrinsic value of the whisky.  I think the 3 was well priced, but now sells at the £200 mark.  The 4 sold out as well .  That’s supply, demand and price gouging, but there are better whiskies available at £200. 

Aside from the economics of it, I like what the brand is saying about the whisky.  Excellence is complicated, making it happen is a black art.  Don’t ask what happened on the way to your glass…

Bruichladdich Black Art III 22 Year Old 1989, 48.7% A⊕


Nose – Beautifully pitched waxy acetone, black cherries, rum soaked raisins, dark sherry and  polished old furniture.  Ripe, ancient feel to the nose, well waxed leather, some tobacco (fresh, dark, damp) and clean cardboard.

Body – Sweet, structured, fresh ripe pear.  Some spice, good wood.  Tropical burps.

Finish – Medium, good balance, winey edge comes through massively in the finish (port and sherry).

What's not good about it:  Nothing really, maybe finish a little short, maybe a little rich – there’s a bitterness blip in there.  But hard to find proper fault.  Note that sulphur does play a small part, but it isn’t a taint here.  Its correct.  The casks are all good.

What’s good about it:  Dark, lacquered nose you can lose yourself in, rich, sherried, great balance and structure.  Stunning.

Bruichladdic Black Art 4 23 Year Old, 49.2% A-

bruichladdich-black-art-4Nose – Less raisiny, more furniture polish.  Flawlessly sherried nose, really beautiful.  A little red chilli on the edge, just brightens up the richness.  Verging on sour, but not at all there with it – suddenly makes sense, more elegant and more accomplished.

Body – Biscuity, cereal blast here with a back note that’s less luxuriant and less rich.  While this is to some extent really the same whisky, here the barley is bursting through with a feeling of swimming pool changing room that’s not altogether welcome, and its shattering the illusion of excellence.  This is the fine line between good and great.  I can feel an oily decadence behind this which hints at what this could have been.

Finish – Very long, quite bright and wooded, spicy but balanced.  Very good actually.

What's not good about it: Luxury let down on the palate, certainly not as oily and opulent as the 3.

What’s good about it:  Fabulous nose, still a blockbuster dram, love the wine edge here again.

Comparing the two

Whisky Nose Body Finish
Black Art 3 Richer, waxier, darker More luxuriant, more port Savoury, loads of wine, a bit more peppery, long
Black Art 4 More restrained, elegant More cereal, more wine, more honest Long but more ordinary

The three is the clear winner for me – they cost the same now, but even at the same price the three is the one to go for.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Bruichladdich Laddie Vertical

Part one in a three parter centred on Bruichladdich – an innovative distillery sitting on plenty of jewels.  These are Bruichladdich’s new “core” range – and for a distillery that has hundreds of expressions that’s drawing a line in… something, around something.  Weirdly I hadn’t tasted this lot, despite kind of making of a big deal, personally, about Bruichladdich recently.  They all have their place and they’re all rather good.

Thanks to Johnnie Stumbler for these samples.

Bruichladdich The Laddie 10 year old, 46% A+


Nose – Rich, gently spicy, some orchard fruit, preserved lemons and oak planks soaked in rum.  Really (classically) luxurious, with a faint lash of smoke.  Very lovely balance and great sweetness.

Body – A bit sharp, and angular following on from that nose where the spirit is demonstrating some youthful vigour.  Still, very lovely balance and good sweetness.

Finish – Medium, good balanced sweetness – finally descends into bitterness and fire. 

What's not good about it: Angular at first but grows on you.  Finish a bit so-so. 

What’s good about it:  Good nose, loads of balance, beautifully made, great value.  On the list.

Bruichladdich The Laddie 16 year old, 46 A+
bruichladdich16Nose – Beautiful orange and peaches, great structure behind it, brightly waxed and backed by well balanced oak and raisins with a whiff of peat.  Fresh, balanced and delicious.

Body – Charred, damp apple wood backing limited toasted cereal and some malt toffee with some sweetness and a hint of cep.  Elegant, quite summery, a little firm, very good.

Finish – Medium, retains poise throughout, well balanced wood dominates towards the end.

What's not good about it: A bit austere compared with the rest of the range, with a sour/savoury note that’s slightly off-putting

What’s good about it:  Much improved finish from the 10, fantastic fruity nose, great balance and rich malt in the body – it’s extremely good.

Bruichladdich The Laddie 22 year old, 46 A+


Nose – The least peated of the three, with rich wax, fruit salad chews and a dusty tropical note of bananas and rum.  Old leather armchair and dubbin.

Body – Sweet, smooth, then clear mashed malt – lovely but slightly watery cereal.  Tropical back note returns, all in fantastic harmony.

Finish – Medium, balanced but a bit uneventful.  More malt, waves of wood, good structure.

What's not good about it: A little bit meek.  The watery cereal thing is a bit of an issue too I’m afraid – I can’t decide if its elegant or a fault. 

What’s good about it: Beautiful nose, lovely fruit, incredibly smooth.  Great balance, given its overall character.

So – equally good all three but different characters, and a shared DNA.  To compare the three, on the nose the 10 is more bold, more Scotchy; the 12 more complicated, fruity and leathery; the 22 more tropical and waxy.  On delivery the 10 is more modern, balanced and fresher; the 16 more wooded and structured; the 22 multi-dimensional and drying.  I would recommend (and buy) all three but in terms of value for money the 10 is excellent.  The nose on the 22 is just wonderful but I’m in two minds about the palate.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix

Long since consigned to auction territory, I’ve been after a taste of this for a long time.  Thanks to Adrian Barnett of WhiskyChronicle for the sample.

A one off from Glenfiddich. This was created with whisky that was blended from casks that lay in warehouses which collapsed under snow on the 7th January. This casks included bourbon and Oloroso and they range from 13 to 30 years of age

Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix, 47.6% A+


Nose – Fresh, clean plum and honey.  Rich malt with a candied edge and a little bit of the dust off a hubba bubba.  Beautifully rounded, honeyed sweetness with great fruit and malt structure – i.e. deeply sweet with the backbone to hold it.

Body – Toast and honeycomb with a sesame edge.  Almost cloyingly sweet but saved by that malted structure.  Very smooth and rich behind some biting youth.  Honey glazed cereal bar.

Finish – Long, spicy, well balanced, some toasted rice.  Structured and very good.

What's not good about it:  As I said not long ago, the difference between good and great is subtle – and this reminds me of the Tomatin Decades in that it has complexity and youth as well as age (and its very, very similar to nose and taste to boot).  I’m a massive fan of youth and age in whiskies but to pull it off in the same glass is clearly a fine balancing act and perhaps not one decided by a collapsing roof.  Although this is excellent, I feel it falls just on the wrong side of that fine balance and the sum of the parts is a bit less than the components.  In short, it’s a little too sweet, a little too ordinary, but…

What’s good about it:  … its extremely well made nonetheless, absolutely delicious and deeply sweet and structured.  Very addictive. 

Friday, 10 January 2014

Balblair 1975 Second Release

Balblair are doing all the right things by all accounts.  I’ve somehow managed to miss out on trying any so far but when scouting for birth year whiskies I thought of this, and Johnnie Stumbler was kind enough to send me a sample (read his review here).  Its very good.

Balblair 1975 Second Release, 46% A⊕+ 


Nose – Oh man, deeply good.  Deep, sexy and supple, ancient wood, almost smoky – what a nose!  Rich, balanced tropical fruit, banana and mango salad.  There’s some kind of Asian edge to this with the savoury nose and some fresh, light gunpowder. 

Body – Ripe, baked apple, cereal backing, good sharpness and a delicious, savoury almost musky note to it.

Finish – Very long, sechuan peppercorns, a citrus sweetness like lemon sherbets, great side of the tongue action.  Extreme balance.  One of the best finishes I’ve experienced.

What's not good about it:  A little astringent if you’re just expecting a warm bath. 

What’s good about it:  Stunning in every way, nose is beautiful, finish is perfect.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Caperdonich–a pair of independent bottlings

Caperdonich has had a dodgy past – opened to extend Glen Grant and deal with a whisky boom in 1897, it closed four years later.  It opened again in 1965 and, after a few changes of hands was closed and demolished in 2002.  But the legacy of distilleries lives on in the many casks that have been put up for future use (remember Tomatin has 180,000 casks sleeping in its warehouses at the moment).

Here’s a pair of 17 year old Caperdonichs, both distilled in 1995 – one from Abbey Whisky, an online retailer, and another from Whisky Broker, some kind of Robin Hood figure who buys interesting casks and sells them on bottled, or otherwise, for a reasonable profit.  Who nobody seems to have heard of and whose whiskies remain freely available for some time despite their rarity and excellence*!  Go figure.

Both are excellent.

* the whisky broker bottle is no longer available from him, and is now only available from the Whisky Barrel for a bit more – all the Whisky Barrel Burns Malts seem to be ex-whisky broker whiskies.

Whisky Broker, Caperdonich 17 year old, 55% A

caper photo

Nose – Fruit salad, apple, very faint peat?  Dried apricots.  There’s a not unpleasant sour edge to it (sour plum?).  Freshly sprayed deodorant, perfumed pear, waxed banana.  Pretty good.

Body – Rich, spicy, quite savoury.  Very pleasant – more tropical flavours, some banana.

Finish – Oily, quite long, spice and wood begin to build.  Long, hot finish, then some fizzing – very good.  My lips have gone numb.

What's not good about it:  While everything is good on paper here, this (again, for WB) lacks concentration on the palate somehow.  Perhaps its the minimal filtering or something to do with the lack of processing.  I love drinking this, but the nose promises a bit more than the palate delivers.

What’s good about it:  Glorious nose, great balance, another fab whisky from Whisky Broker.

Caperdonich, Abbey Whisky Rare Casks, 17 years old A+

I suppose you could call this the sister cask to the previous bottling, although bottled in 2013 rather than 2012.  Maybe its the leftovers from the same cask and has spend another 6 months in oak – nobody has any reason to tell me!  Its definitely better though.  Only 96 bottles were released and its still available.  Thanks to Q for the sample.

Nose – Bright, waxed leatherette, a deep, single dimension of ground almonds and cherry.  Bold cereals, all beautifully integrated.  There’s juicy elements of apricot and apricot stones here too.  Complex, sure footed and delicious.

Body – Extremely sweet, then intense tropical fruit and banana.  Surprisingly intense, very drinkable.

Finish – Medium long, with fiery chill and some numbing wood spice.  Peppery with some fireball jawbreakers showing up in a weirdly refreshing way. 

What's not good about it:  Lack of elegance, a bit unbalanced.  The whisky broker dram fixes these problems, yet I’m still more impressed with this. 

What’s good about it:  Fabulous nose, fabulous to drink, great tropical flavours.  Recommended.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

English Whisky Company Chapter 7, 2013

I reviewed the 2010 back here, with a sample from Prentice, and vowed to return with the 2013.  Here it is.  I’m less impressed, but then the differences between good and great are subtle and whisky is a batch product. I’ll seek out the cask strength version for comparison at some point.

English Whisky Company Chapter 7, Rum Cask, 2013, 46% A


Nose – Light, toast, toasted malt and fresh citrus.  Some marker bends, some raw barley.  Elegant fruit, but behind serious structured malt.  Some barely ripe pear.  Certainly lacks the excitement of the 2010.

Body – Bold, citrus malt, yet well structured and smooth.  Salt catches at the back of the throat.  Bitterness is cloaked in rich citrus zest.  Malt sweetness behind this with an elegant citrus backing.  Well put together and quite moreish.

Finish – Zesty, spicy, but very short.  Balanced and interesting to the end.

What's not good about it: Rum is making up for the youth – I see that now.  Finish is too short.

What’s good about it:  It’s a patch on the 2010.  Great balance, very interesting to drink and ultimately its good, just not great.

Ben Nevis 16 year old - Abbey Whisky The Rare Casks

Part of a tweet tasting I missed out on but my friend didn’t.  He kindly saved me a small taste of each.  I’d never had a Ben Nevis before and I suspect this isn’t representative. 

Ben Nevis 16 year old - Abbey Whisky The Rare Casks, 55% B⊖


Nose – Rich, spiced rum and raisin with a big belt of wet cardboard.  Behind that there’s some fruity sweetness, some candied pineapple and an off-putting hint of sulphur.  Rich but wonky.

Body – Dark, smooth, raisins, then..

Finish – Sulphur.  Spicy wood, medium length, lingering sulphur.


What's not good about it: Sulphur, wet cardboard and unbalanced.

What’s good about it:  Lurking fruit and sweetness.  I suspect if you’re a person less susceptible to sulphur you’d find these a bit more apparent.

Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel 2012

The Yamazaki single malt (reviewed only a few days ago) is made from a range of different cask types to produce the result the producers are after, and as with most Japanese malts it’s a balanced, restrained and elegant whisky.  Suntory decided to release each component cask of their single malt – and this is one.  Clearly this is where the chocolate comes from in the 12.

Thanks to Q for the sample.

Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel 2012, 48.2% A


Nose – Rich, orange malt with bright citrus highlights.  A little milk chocolate, cedar planks, some wet cardboard but mainly orange, orange zest and rich malt.  Nice integration but a little on the bright side. Very nicely made though.

Body – Creamy milk chocolate, back note of spiced wood but quite polite.

Finish – Medium, balanced, more creamy milk chocolate, wood structure develops well with a little chilli and finally dominates. 

What's not good about it: A little too bright and bitter.

What’s good about it:  Lovely rich profile, love the orange richness, smooth and otherwise balanced.