Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Ardbeg Supernova 2015

This was released at the same time as results were published for an experiment that compared whisky aged IN SPACE to whisky aged on earth.  I always thought that whisky that had been shaken up in a test tube on the way into orbit was bound to be a different to that which hadn’t, and I wasn’t surprised in any case that zero gravity maturation had an effect on the presumably incredibly complex interaction between wood and whisky, but either way it got us all talking about the whisky.  Luckily, it’s excellent.

Ardbeg, Supernova 2015, 54.3% A⊕

ardbegsupernova2015Nose - Deep but bright, but more lemon meringue pie than any other whisky I've nosed. Good cereal peat, dusty first fill bourbon cask, toasted almonds, wet soil and heavily charred, wet oak chunks. A hint of old ice cubes. It does put me slightly in mind of one of the Octomores with its slightly funky, lemon, intense peat. Interesting…

Body - Deeply sweet lemon sherbet, ripe green apple, very sweet but deliciously balanced – quite meaty and complex. Some (unlit) menthol tobacco. With all these e-fags, what are future ex-smokers going to base their tasting notes on? This is deeper and more satisfying than I'd hoped for, and deliciously balanced.

Finish - Long, more tobacco and a little garage forecourt (rubber, oil, travel sweets). With water, more rubbery with some hot radiator and cheap ice cream. It's better than I'm making that sound, again.

Challenging and mucky, fruity and balanced, incredibly drinkable and with real depth, this is pretty special.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Auchentoshan Blood Oak

A new one for Travel Retail, this is a decently priced OB Auchentoshan - a marriage of red wine and bourbon casks with a deep red colour.   

Auchentoshan Blood Oak, 46% A+

auchentoshan-14-year-old-blood-oak-whiskyNose - Musky cask (that'll be the red wine) and incredibly sweet on the nose (that’ll be the bourbon). Earth, cherry lip gloss and icing. A little raspberry jam and marzipan - practically bakewell tart with that bourbon. It's interesting and rather good, but a bit lewd and lacks integration… so far.

Body - Immediately a little sour, thin and woody, but mellows almost immediately with the sweet pastry notes rushing in to back it up. Then orange icing and lovely wood bitterness.

Finish - Quite long and more sweet pastry and bourbon goodness, more marzipan. The lasting impression is one of a very sweet, pastried whisky balanced out by sour, waxy orange zest and good wood, and a proper dunnagey feel behind all this.

This has a lot going for it - big wood, wine and cask, lots of pastry and orange and slightly odd. And it works! But it's a little obvious - I'd find it a bit tiring to deal with a whole bottle.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Big Peat Christmas 2015

Apologies for the late running of this whisky review, but it is still in time for Christmas – just (you can still buy it in time for the 25th!).  Big Peat was the first Douglas Laing vatted malt and must be well into its 70th or so batch.  I have a lot of time for the blend – consistently excellent and not just peaty.  Lots of complexity and zesty coastal enjoyment, and always very drinkable.  I always make sure to buy (and split) a bottle of the Christmas vatting, and keep back some tasting samples to compare to previous years.

Big Peat at Christmas, 2015, 53.8% A⊕

big-peat-at-christmas-2015-whiskyNose - Glorious as ever. Sweet, floral, quite a lot of wax this year against the big, lemon peat from the young Caol Ila. Ozone, hand soap, white wine and scented erasers. Fabulous.

Body - Sharply floral, like tasted perfume. Lots of depth - confident cereal and toffee, bran flakes and lemon sherbets.

Finish - Medium long, oily, soft toffee. The peat character is bold and bright, and very well balanced.

Compared to 2014

On the nose, the 2015 is much more lemon bright, more cereal and a little dirtier. The 2014 is a bit deeper with musky cask wax. On the delivery, the 2014 is softer, waxier and fruitier, but has a much sharper finish and a huge, numbing peat blast at the end- the 2015 is sweeter. I think the 2014 is "big peat"ier on account of that big young blast, but the 2015 is probably (on balance) an even better whisky.

Compared to the 2013

On the nose, the 2013 is lighter, a little more polite, with the 2015 more lemony again. The 2013 definitely smells the most mature of the three, assuming no bottle effect in a 3cl sample bottle in two years! On the delivery, the 2013 is initially mescally but then lots of granite, ozone and a really coastal peat. The finish is very mescal but absolutely lovely with it. Quite different to the 2015 with its cereal toffee.

All three are actually very different, I think the peat is receding a little in the finish the later we go - perhaps that's a change in the character of the Caol Ila. It used to be a bit funkier too. I do like the increased sweetness though.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Glenfiddich–The Original

This recent limited edition whisky from Glenfiddich is based on the original 1963 “straight malt”, considered to be the worlds first commercial single malt.  I first tasted this out of Mark Thomson’s hip flask, a little while before it was announced, on a dark rainy evening in the SMWS bar, after a whole outturn tasting session.  Even after 4 hours of concentration on cask strength single caskers this peaked my interest, and I’ve been waiting to get to grips with it properly ever since.

Glenfiddich, the original, 40% A+

glenfiddichNose - Dark skinned, ripe, cut, red apple, wooded toffee, bracken and wet rolling tobacco. A little murky and unmistakably Glenfiddich. A touch of orange zest and wet cardboard. It has that dusty, oaky sweetness that I really associate with big Glenfiddich (although this is clearly a younger whisky).

Body - Spicy, a little chocolate, lots of wood and a rounded sweetness. The fruit is restrained but clear, with ripe pear - it's quite a refreshing delivery.

Finish - Astringent wood sour but well balanced. Good, if slightly sharp oils. Medium long, rather drinkable.

This is a solid whisky and I've tried to give it an objective score based on its qualities - I would happily sit down to drink something of this quality all night. However it has another, highly important quality for me. It reminds me of old Glenfiddich and therefore allows me to scratch an itch which would otherwise cost me £300-£400 a bottle to scratch. Factor that in, if it does that for you, and it's a big winner. Personally, I love this.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Glover 14 years old

Named after Thomas Blake Glover, a Scotsman who did big things in Japan 100 years ago, this is the younger (much cheaper) blend that accompanies the 22 year old.  The 22 year old contains over 60% 22 year old Hanyu and sold for over £1000.  This one contains Japanese whisky of some kind, and also Scotch (Longmorn and Glen Garioch if it matches the 22).  I don’t know what and how much, but it sold for about £100, and sold out on pre-order as far as I can tell.

The Glover 14 years old, 44.3% A+

the-glover-14-year-old-whiskyNose - Dusty and bright as you approach it (the Scotch), then deep toffee fruit, coffee and petrol when it reaches you (the Japanese). Glacé cherry, some sulphur, then quite a lot of smoke - burning bay leaves and hay.

Body - Beautifully balanced cereal smoke, boiled sweets, foam bananas and toffee. Some wood polish and fig rolls behind that sherbet lemon peat. Quite chewy.

Finish - Medium to short, well blended toffee and peat. That cereal peat lingers, with black pepper and sesame crisps. Deliciously sweet with a surprisingly big hit of smoke that just catches.

This is a strikingly good blend that's very moreish and hits back with some peat, but I'm not sure about the price.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Glendronach–Green Welly 50th bottle 3

Here’s the third and final bottling on behalf of Green Welly for their 50th anniversary.  The first was an excellent 11 year old PX cask Glendronach too.  The middle bottle was a 10 year old Arran – also excellent.  God bless GW, here’s to another 50.

Glendronach, The Green Welly Stop, 50th Anniversary 3rd release, 12 years old, 55.2% A⊕

2003-2015, PX Puncheon 4102, 697 bottles.

Nov15-GlenDronach50th3Nose - Another cracker. Classy, bright, red fruits and beautiful fresh oak planks. Great depth (waxy cask) and sweetness (neat orange squash) nicely offset by fresh juice (orange and lime) and herbal tones (rosemary on the bush, sandalwood). It's very inviting - if you like the OB 12 year old you'll love this. With water, there's more of a mucky tropical nose, still a lovely balance.

Body - The sweet sherry and herbal astringency continues into the palate; unripe mango and chilli, a touch of lovely sulphur and fizzing, numbing Sichuan peppercorns are top dressing to an undercurrent of intense, fruity sweetness. Balance and intensity.

Finish - Very long, salty, lots of wood and classic PX cask stuff. Glendronach does very well in PX and I've had a few epic late teens in PX but not one this good this young before. Grapefruit zest and sandalwood again at the end. It does come a little unstuck right at the end with water (too much grapefruit bitterness) but the nose makes it worth it… one to play with anyway.

This is seriously good - a drier PX cask with significant depth and well balanced by excellent spirit. Highly recommended.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Some Auchentoshans

One of the benefits or organising my samples “collection” (more like, backlog) is that I can now browse it for flights and discover things I’d long forgotten. I’m developing a real love of Auchentoshan through SMWS bottlings but they can be a bit variable.  

Whiskybase Archives - Auchentoshan 1990, 23 years old, 47.7% A+

11.11.1990 to 09.2014, 71 bottles, hogshead.  I think I’m indebted to Sjoerd for this one.

archivesNose - Mature, dusty and official. Lovely cask, lots of chocolate bars, and a little black forest gateaux on exhale. Hot radiator, curly wurly bars and glacé cherries. After time, very clearly Christmas pudding - properly cooked with thick cream. This really is an expensive nose and I can see this could have graced the vatting for an extremely expensive official bottling. With water, fruitier and muskier, but less good.

Body - Spicy, toasted and caramel musk. A lovely, rich mouthfeel - very masculine with fresh sweat and leather. Lacks a bit of midrange though, where that official vatting would have picked up the baton with another cask.

Finish - Medium, chocolatey and rich. Some spice - like a mild chilli chocolate. Good balance but a little thin.

What a fantastic nose on this mature Auchentoshan, but it lacks meat and midrange in the delivery.

Whiskybroker Auchentoshan 1995, 17 years old, 53.5% A-

auch_WB_thumbNose - Delightful - zippy and casky with lemon musk but full of chocolate and the toffee bit in mint humbugs. Mineral but toffeed - a combination I adore. With water, significantly more fruity, very compelling.

Body - Chocolate, toffee and mint again. Maybe a little youth and quite spicy.

Finish - Long and sour, some orange wax and grapefruit zest, quite drying.

A lovely nose on this one, quite sour and ordinary on the delivery unfortunately, but not funky or wrong in any way.

Berry Bros and Rudd, Auchentoshan 1984, 29 years old, 46% A⊕

Thanks to Stumbler for this beauty!  I’m afraid the only picture I could find of this was on your blog so I have stolen it, as well as 3cl out of your bottle.

BBRNose - Dreamy. Massive chocolate again. Darkly waxed, ripe black fruit and a wine gum sweetness behind this, Turkish Delight too? Floral - handsoap (and no that's not my hands, this time!). Ripe and attractive.

Body - Wow… that was unexpected. Although I vaguely remember being told to expect it! Old Bowmore - ripe Refreshers, dusty alien Islay. Delicious too, perfectly fruity against its characteristic spice and bitterness. Like chewing a perfectly balanced air freshener full of whisky.

Finish - Very long, prefect Refreshers all the way down. Fizzy, fruity and balanced bitterness.

This is weird, intense and compelling. And absolutely delicious. Only jaded palates need apply!

BTW I was going to call this blog post “Auchentoshantastic” but bottled it.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

SMWS December 2015 Outturn

November for volume, December the showcase, and this December is the first December the society is under new ownership.  So as expected, there are some big whiskies in this outturn, the whole thing is pretty awesome!  There’s some big, sometimes shocking prices in here too unfortunately but sometimes it’s worth it – I’ll always regret not buying 124.5 this time last year, despite the price tag, and in any case the society’s business strategy isn’t, and shouldn’t be “to be cheap”.


As you probably know, the London SMWS bar has now undergone its refurbishment. 12278966_448000895409721_6178702261246981667_n Gone are the sofas and green walls, in come dark walls, wooden chairs, more seating space and a more serious “whisky bar” vibe.  Fingers crossed the food and coffee also go soon, the smell of fish and chips is a tricky one to delete when you’re trying to write notes for a well balanced but mineral Arran.

All in all its been a great year with the society – more fantastic Arrans (including the first ever released 19 year old), a whole parade of important Bladnochs, mature, elegant Highland Parks galore, countless excellent refill bourbon Glenfarclas and loads of great, weird or big casks – Penderyn, Glencadam, a port Glenrothes, mature Glen Moray in first fill, designer and recharred oak, lots of white wine casks, the flight of Port Charlottes at the start of the year, the first Dumbarton, all of that Japanese gear, the return of society bourbons, big Springbanks (including “that” Springbank, so good I ended up buying four), the return of Laphroaig and associated controversy, Rosebanks, Kilchomans, big old Dailuaines, a Scapa, “that” Strathisla, three 26 year old Bowmores, big, old Caol Ilas every month, and of course 57 bloody whiskies in November!


Cheers!  Here’s to next year.  Oh, and here’s the first society Cognac…

SMWS C1 Nectar céleste, 48.4% A⊕

Fine Island Cognac. XO, 450 bottles, French oak barrel.

20151130_175632Nose - Burnt sweet oak, sweet wet hay, very cut grass. Meaty, but oddly fresh. There's a real red berry thing in here too, slightly stale strawberry laces and Demerara sugar - perhaps icing sugar. It's quite rum-like actually.

Body - Lovely, rich and appley, quite sour and toppy but then it's a Cognac not a whisky! Lots of orange squash - then grapefruit zest. Very juicy with a hint of lime after a while. Less interesting with water - not as fully flavoured as a whisky but rather good.

Finish - Quite short - a bit like Lockets with the intense boiled sweet outer and fruity syrup interior, finishing with tannic, sour fruit.

This is pretty good actually, not that I know anything about Cognac (I'll give it a score but only for my own amusement). Fancy a bottle of C1?


SMWS 125.72, Strawberry delight, Glenmorangie, 11 years old, 57.5% A⊕

24th February 2004, 186 bottles, first fill barrel.  Apparently only 6 bottles in each UK venue and incomprehensibly priced – maybe this is a parting sentiment from LVMH?

20151130_181639Nose - Intensely sweet - strawberry chews, banana milkshake, Angel Delight. Marshmallow. This is how I expect that "Fluff" stuff to smell. Hazelnut cake too? Some cereal, some youth but overshadowed by the intense confectionary. With water, a touch of tomato and swimming pool, also nougat and still incredibly sweet.

Body - Incredibly sweet - musky and fruity and lots of wood and sour orange. Peanut butter and jelly. More gentle fruit with water, still firewater mind. With lots and lots of water, the wood musk comes through - you can see how this would work at 40%.

Finish - Quite long, but not overbalanced at all - a massive fruity smash but balanced by big wood tannin and a touch of sulphur. Nothing with lots of water though - standard Glenmo fare.

As much as I didn't really want to like this (not a massive Glenmorangie fan), this is fantastic cask of whisky (pity it leaked). Reminds me a bit of "As purple as Prince" in its juicy, fruity demeanour but definitely more accomplished.

BUY (but certainly not at that price, and not that there's any to buy).

SMWS 121.82, Expanding supernova of flavours, Arran, 15 years old, 57.6% A⊕

2nd December 1999, 269 bottles, refill bourbon… sweet, sweet Arran! 

20151130_183609Nose - Very Arran. Sweet, bright orange liqueur, orange wax, cut plum and those pink wafer biscuit things. A lovely, springlike nose - fresh but complex and balanced. Elegant, delicious, not very wintery but save it 'til April.

Body - Big, bright, floral and biscuity. Quite a musky orange fruit delivery, a touch of sulphur. With water, a little more orange oil, balanced by dry chilli and black pepper, and absolutely delicious to drink. Complicated and interesting, this is the kind of whisky that makes you pleased to be a society member.

Finish - Black pepper and gunpowder. Lots of tannins and almost chewy. Long and musky, good orange wood at the end with chilli chocolate.

For some reason I wasn’t expecting this to be one of the standout drams of the outturn but it’s surprisingly good (even for a society Arran), highly recommended.


SMWS 50.73, Energizing, grounding and centring, Bladnoch, 25 years old, 59.7% A⊕+

26th January 1990, 162 bottles, 2nd fill Sauternes finish - previously "ex-bourbon"

20151130_185549Nose - Immediately I'm thinking of bacon sandwiches - I think it's brown sauce? Sweet, sour, spiced, stewed fruit. Complex, honeyed cask underneath too - very warming with a biscuity backing. Obviously old - there's a dark raisiny edge - old library, old cleaning products, erm… brown sauce? It's definitely got that authoritative edge to it that these Bladnochs usually seem to have. Even better with water, some of the Sauternes finish coming through - and very definitely roast lamb with lots of rosemary. With some time, marzipan/raspberry pound cake. What a whisky.

Body - Tobacco, toffee and old leather sofas. Big, beautiful tannins. With water, soft fruit, lots of orange, lots of Drumsticks (the sweets), perfect balancing wood structure

Finish - More bloody orange - lovely though. Soft toffee orange, more tannins and Marlboro light, a little mulled wine.

A fascinating whisky - playing that weird (but integrated) brown sauce against the mature orange and toffee, and winning. Tobacco, stewed fruit, complex and always delicious. Very compelling, one of the best whiskies I've had this year.


SMWS 1.199, The whole is greater than…, Glenfarclas, 21 years old, 55.6% A+

23rd September 1993, 211 bottles, refill bourbon

20151130_192040Nose - Beautifully warm and sweet, stewed plum and beautiful ripe melon. Raspberry? Oranges slices. Absolutely delicious. Damn the December outturn is hard work! Whipped cream, sponge fingers, raspberry jam and iced rings. Lovely Victoria sponge cake with time. With water, very clearly red braised pork (pork belly, star anise, sugar, soy, lots of time). Woof! It's a beautiful, complex, warm radiator nose, and the toffee cereal with time is delicious.

Body - Acrylic paint, liquorice torpedoes, more raspberry jam… it's delicious in the initial delivery but it's not quite living up to the nose later on, slightly flat as it progresses. 

Finish - A little hot, more paint, some marzipan… it's a good, mature whisky but shown up slightly by the sheer excellence of those around it.

Still, in another outturn this'd be a strong BUY

SMWS 27.110, Horse harnesses and mescal 'worms', Springbank, 22 years old, 52.6% A⊕⊕

11th December 1992, 241 bottles, first fill sherry hogshead

20151130_194257Nose - Immediately Springbank (like coming home) but then obviously mescal. Toast, plums, roast pork with hoisin, roast beef sandwich with horseradish sauce. Pipe tobacco, pulled pork. Closed but complicated, and challenging. With water, peppered roast beef (almost jerky), lovely waxed cask, ozone.

20151130_194602Body - Intensely Springbank - deep, lots of horseradish, lots of sherry engine oil. Very classy. Meaty too - lamb and rosemary again now, big bitter tannins, big sour fruit, dirty strawberries. Coffee, engine oil, toffee. Very ripe, absolutely fantastic. With water, less exciting but still lovely.

Finish - Long and tannic, sour strawberries and grapefruit, but soft and ripe with lingering permanent markers and wax candles.

It's big money but this is worth it. Meaty, messy, classy, important.


SMWS 85.34, Having arrived, Glen Elgin, 9 years old, 59.9% A+

22nd June 2006, 222 bottles, 1st fill bourbon

20151130_200342Nose - Fresh and acrylic, apple spirit and lime marmalade. Very fresh and quite musky, lots of marzipan. A lovely clean, spirity whisky. Juicy fruit chewing gum and the cleaning fluid that removes it. After tasting, whole nut chocolate bar. With water, stewed plum and lime - fresh, ripe, red plums. Lovely.

Body - Big, very sweet, extremely almondy - plum and cherry crumble. Delicious and perfumed. Even better with water, really getting the plum stones.

Finish - Long and cherried, balanced and competent.

A delicious, young, fruity whisky redolent of plum stones and lime.


SMWS 93.67, 'Wine like the wind is sweet', Glen Scotia, 13 years old, 58.1% A+

30th April 2002, 228 bottles, refill bourbon. Great name!

20151130_201856Nose - Sweet, light, lemonade and lemon juice. Lemon sherbets, a touch of honey, a touch of cask. Very un-glen scotia. Underneath, a little cask musk, a touch of gunpowder, candle wax, some MDF. We probably should have had this earlier, where's the peat? With water, vanilla ice cream and wafers.

Body - Sweet toffee, cut flower stalk, lemon curd, musky toffee. Intensely sweet - is this really refill bourbon Glen Scotia? Delicious though - ripe, floral and structured. Waffles? Maple?

Finish - A little fire, beautiful honey cereal, a touch of spice, milk chocolate, sweet popcorn and almost cloying (but not quite).

Another delicious whisky. Starting to lose the power to gush…


SMWS B3.3, Treacle buns in a sawmill, Rocktown, 2 years old, 54.3% A+

7th November 2012, 221 bottles, new charred oak barrel.  Another B3 after one in November, but I saw a tweet from Rocktown distillery the other day that had a picture of a barrel with “SMWS B3.4” written on it so we have at least one more on its way.

20151130_203603Nose - Weak and woody. Blonde, planed oak, leather belt - new furniture, and a little red berry. Fresh and summery - weirdly austere, but with digging, oddly delicious. This is the kind of angular red fruit that I enjoy in single cask bourbon. Very interesting. Quite winey - like a Tokaji.

Body - Massive oak planks - almost completely wood! But oddly delicious with it - pear tart tatin, sugar work, sweet Moroccan tea. Marzipan again - almondy and clear.

Finish - Short but tannic, a touch of sulphur, new plastic and a big pastry finish. Burns the palate with new oak tannins.

This is one of the most "I've just spent two years in a load of wood" whiskies I've ever had, but it works.


SMWS 10.84, Grabs you by the goulies!, Bunnahabhain, 10 years old, 60.8% A

25th May 2005, 211 bottles, refill bourbon. Apparently this is an important date football-wise.

20151130_213136Nose - Young and muddy, a little coffee, some cinder toffee. Gunpowder, crushed granite, white pepper. It's fresh, with lemon salt, sea shells and a little bread, but not too complex. A typical, robust, young peated Bunnahabhain. With water, fresh cut rosemary and more gunpowder - with lots of water, quite a lot better with some of the (faint) cask coming through the spirit.

Body - Spicy, steak sauce, BBQ beef hula hoops. Good toffee musk with water, a touch of apple sauce?

Finish - Lemon zest, lots of black pepper and toasted buns. Grapefruit zest at the end. With the "lots" of water it takes to show some interest in the rest of the experience, it's a bitter finish

A young, competent bruiser. Zesty and coastal, quite thin in the delivery and not out of place, just not of massive interest to me (young, peated Bunnahabhain generally isn’t). I can't recommend this on its own, but as a means of obtaining the transcendent Ardbeg and Laphroaig, I'd go along with it.

SMWS 33.132, Beauty and the Beast, Ardbeg, 8 years old, 60.9% A⊕⊕

24th May 2007, 624 bottles, 2nd fill sherry butt

20151130_205450Nose - A lovely, dirty, sherried peat, a perfect Ardbeg nose. Country paté, charcoal, musky fruit - quite sexy. Red cherry lip salve, bay leaves. More BBQ than peat. Fabulous, complex, sweet. With water, plastic book coverings, more mackerel, chocolate cherries.

20151130_205520Body - Intensely wooded, smoked mackerel, massively BBQed and with that, perfectly balanced. Cigar tobacco, cigar smoke. Cherry sweets. Perfect with water.

Finish - Perfumed and beautiful, just the right level of filth to make it perfect. Enormous pastry. Future echoes of alien Islay sweetshop.  

I really didn't want to like this. How on earth do Ardbeg do this at 8?  Dirty, fruity, cherried.


SMWS 29.171, Essence of Islay, Laphroaig, 20 years old, 58.4% A⊕+

4th April 1995, 216 bottles, refill bourbon

20151130_211050Nose - Quite salt and vinegar discos - whitebait, panko and tartar sauce. Mint sauce, more lamb (but by association), Pritt Stick, petrol and dried apple slices. It's beautiful.

Body - Perfect. Rich, coastal cereal. Bandages, white wine and walnuts. Absolutely delicious.

Finish - Burnt toast, honey and figs. Massive tannins. Just a touch eggy?

A mature, perfectly balanced Laphroaig, perfectly made, fruity with old bandages. Awesome.


No Japanese, no totally crazy distilleries, but what an outturn – everything interesting, complex, thought provoking and delicious.  If this is the new owners flexing their muscles we’re in for a great 2016.  Happy Xmas!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Arran Backlog

I recently tidied up my bottle shares and samples and what became clear is that I was due a big Arran post.  Due to their class leading social media engagement strategy and totally excellent products, Arran is a big favourite with whisky nerds and bloggers and hence there are a lot of split bottles, samples and tastings to take account of. This has been building up for a while!

Let’s open with the Green Welly 50th anniversary Arran though.  Because GW is generally awesome and should be supported, and also because the first 50th anniversary bottling (an 11 year old Glendronach) was cracking.  I haven’t tried the 3rd bottling yet (another Glendronach) but will do shortly.

Arran, Green Welly 50th Anniversary, 10 years old, 53.5% A⊕

20th September 2004 - 4th June 2015, 287 bottles, ex-Oloroso sherry cask (perhaps first fill according to the shop, seems like refill to me)

Aug15-Arran50thNose - Dark, sweet, winey but pleasantly sour. Puddings - raspberry pound cake, some kind of big, cream filled American meringue pie, and Rainbow Drops. There’s a lovely talcum powder and meringue softness that's very appealing, offset by a masculine edge - leather jackets and tobacco. Reminds me of my youth… with time there's enormous popcorn and pecans against a classy varnished oak.

Body - Quite heavily wooded, almost piney, with a bright fizzing bitterness at the side of the tongue. Apple chews and more pastry. Unexpectedly acidic but it really works against the bright sweetshop. Water tones down the acid and brings wax and fruit to the fore. Delicious.

Finish - Mature sulphur content belies its youth, quite complex wood and sour fruits, big tannins and more Marlboros in the finish.

For such a young whisky, this works really well and plays to Arran's puddings and tannins structure. A real cracker, and good Xmas drinking too.

Next the White Stag, tasted on a tweet tasting.  This did the “crash the servers” thing when they released it in June this year, and sold out immediately.

Arran white stag, first release, 54.2% A⊕

Nearly 18 years in a single refill Oloroso sherry cask - American oak hogshead.

Nose - Gentle, sour cherry, menthol tobacco again. Earth, dried herbs and a little deck chair? A touch of instant coffee. Gentle, weird, compelling. With water, sweeter and muskier.

Body - Coffee cake, spicy sulphur, juicy and sweet. Extremely delicious and well balanced with strawberry laces, cough candy and toffee at the tip of the tongue.

Finish - Dusty sweets, fizzing oak, lemon sherbet and tannic sulphur. A balanced bruiser.


Next is the 18 OB, which was a the “final” release in a trilogy of aged Arrans (16, 17 and 18).  This was one of my favourite whiskies of the year, and one which I was very serious about buying a case of (but had a word with myself).  The next aged Arran OB will be the 21 year old in a few years’ time (it won’t be 21 years after the opening of the distillery, they need enough casks of enough quality to make a release).

The Arran Malt, 18 years old limited edition, 46% A⊕+

arrob.18yoNose - Deeply sexy. This is most of the things I look for in a non-peated whisky. Elegant, intense fruit (peach, figs, ripe pear, banana), bold, blonde wood, woody herbs and very balanced. Lemon drizzle cake and ozone in the air before a summer thunderstorm.

Body - Again, more balance. Whoever put this together is a genius. Apple strudel, raisin, tannic oak, foam bananas, milk tart and butter.

Finish - Medium, sweet and wooded. Soft toffee and custard. Extraordinarily drinkable.

A couple more distillery releases before getting into some private casks; the last two casks from the Arran musical festival.

Arran Festival 2014, 18 years old, 52% A⊖

Sherry hogshead, 238 bottles

IMG_1676loNose - Restrained but interesting, stewed fruit, pecans in caramel and surfboard wax. Pain au raisin actually, with that custard that's in the cheap ones and a little UHU glue. Good stuff though, a real slow motion sherry monster. Even better with water, the sweetness is better integrated and the overall feeling is classier.

Body - Sweet, sweetshops, fizzing tannins but ultimately rather uninteresting. And very young tasting given that this was the oldest ever Arran released at the time. Better with water, wax, wood and tobacco coming through, but still my initial impression of a young, oddly bitter whisky holds.

Finish - Much better here, sweet plays against sulphur and wood oak nicely, fizzing bright tannins back it up.

A great nose on this one but oddly disappointing, probably half due to expectation management. I have a nasty feeling this was selected due to its age rather than its skills.  As the next whisky will prove, being half the age and twice as good.

Arran Festival 2015, 9 years old, French Oak, 59% A⊕

148754-largeNose - Lemon drops, lemon sherbet, dusty oak, and mineral sweetness with loads of treble. It's one of the yellowest whiskies I've ever smelled (or seen). Almost to the point of urinal cake - but enough of that. Underneath there's characteristic toffee and pudding, maybe just pastry - pursuing that it's actually quite complex and enticing - but then the lemon sherbets come back. Water allows me to dig a bit deeper; water chestnuts, Christmas trees and garibaldi biscuits. Very good.

Body - That lemon sweetness is there and perfectly balanced against mineral structure and sulphur. Big, bright, clean tobacco too.

Finish - Very long, loads of musky oak sweetness and tannic oak. Extremely drinkable too, despite it's very challenging aspects.

This is a complex, balanced, well presented, refreshing, quite challenging, and ultimately extremely lovely to drink whisky. Highly recommended.

Next up, some private casks – then finally a couple of indies.

Arran, Bright Early Spring, 12 years old, Private cask for the Netherlands, 56% A⊕

13/12/2001 - 09/12/2014

1438790422_21Arran-BrightNose - Sweet, deep and quite waxy. Bright, dusty oak - sawdust nearly. Sour in the back of the throat like pine sawdust is too. Fresh, ripe cut peach (including the fur), classy oak and just a delightful youngish Arran showing a lot of the grown up mineral beauty and deep fruit the older bottles do. More citrus fruit with water, but offset by warmer stone fruit. Delicious.

Body - Very sweet with fizzers and hot radiator (the dusty hot smell of it and also slightly metallic to taste). Some hard green apple and undercooked pastry. Less exciting with water but better balance to the bright top notes.

Finish - Long, oily, lightly sulphured and quite tannic. Balanced and interesting.

What's not good about it - Not much…

What's good about it - A beautiful, deep, interesting, obviously high quality nose. Balanced delivery with big sweet fruit but rounded out by herbal tannins and ozone. A cracking cask.

Arran, Private cask for the Glasgow Whisky Club, 13 years old, 54.7% A⊕

Sherry hogshead.

gwcNose - A lovely sweet, but slightly austere wine note to this. Cooked orange, soft toffee and rosemary. Really warm, welcoming but with gravitas too (great wax). I must say it's not the most “Arran” Arran I've had nosed though.

Body - Sweet, quite spicy and vegetal, but held in check by lovely wine cask. Reminds me of those great sherry finished Whisky Broker Arran 18 year old casks. With water, softer and juicier as always, but more intense, bright sweet toffee, a little greener and the high quality wax and sulphur comes through more cleanly. I love this.

Finish - Long, balanced, lovely wine still with great vegetal highlights (grass, earth, good sulphur).

What's not good about it - A bit restrained neat, not very Arran.

What's good about it - But I wouldn't hold that against it if it was an IB. Beautiful, interesting and delicious, great balance and intensity and a great cross between sherry and bourbon cask in a single cask. Cracking again.

This next two came as a pair, more Netherlands stuff (thanks Sjoerd).  The White Wizard (bourbon) and Dark Lord (sherry)

Arran "The White Wizard", 14 years old, 56.7% A+

19/7/1999 to 3/7/14, bourbon barrel

wwNose - Much cleaner, fresher and more citrus juice than the others today. White wine and lovely cask wax too, almost cleaning product zesty - orange floor cleaner or something. Lovely, fresh and summery, deeply sweet pastry but balanced by summer fruits.

wwdlBody - Ripe and waxy but with a young, spiced cereal that does somewhat take the edge off. Toppy. But a lingering impression of fruit pie.

Finish - Long, juicy, waxy oranges. Some barley. Lots of white wine.

What's not good about it - Definitely young. This Arran spirit is extraordinarily high quality and the nose on this works very well, but the delivery needs the edges taking off it.

What's good about it - Fruit, cask, sweet balance and lovely wax.

Arran "Dark Lord", 17 years old, 53.2% A

11/12/1996 to 3/7/14, sherry hogshead.

dlNose - Deep and dark fruits, bright sherry, very clean tobacco. It's extremely juicy though. It's been a while since I had a "dark" Arran what with all the SMWS refill bourbonry and this is excellent. The sense of "warehouse" is immense, if you nosed this in Arran's warehouse I think you'd flip. Perfectly integrated sherry wine and mineral depth. Ozone and earth bring it together. Coffee. With water, even better; tropical fruit toffee and orange squash.

Body - Fruit and nut chocolate, cocoa powder and chocolate brazils. A touch of sulphur and wine and then…

Finish - chocolate. Chocolate. A little chai? Dusty chocolate. Water does bring a bit of orange pith.

What's not good about it - Weirdly one dimensional in the delivery. If this was accidentally aged in some kind of chocolate orange cask I'd feel a bit vindicated.

What's good about it - Fabulous nose. Honestly it's pretty delicious too but I can't get behind all that chocolate. This is whisky.

Time for some proper indies, of which I have tasted many this year (usually society casks).

Arran "A Rare Find" (Gleann Mór), 19 years old, 48.8% A-

19 year old Arran is almost common now and we should be seeing some 20 year olds soon (the distillery opened in 1995).

arran-19-year-old-1996-a-rare-find-gleann-mor-whiskyNose - Sweet, wine gums. Sharp and young though, lactic barley and citric acid. Hard, young grain whisky. Hmm… but also, magic balloons, red bull and squash. Water flattens out that intense sweetness quite a lot and brings out much better integration.

Body - Grapes jelly (jam), strawberry laces, a little (but interesting) bourbon cask (?) and chocolate orange. Water brings big sweet love hearts and refreshers on the tip of the tongue.

Finish - Very long, the enormous tide of sugar is finally balanced by tannins and sulphur.

What's not good about it - I don't really know what this is. It's not the complex gravitas of any other 19 year old Arran I've had, but maybe it's a first fill bourbon or something. Unbalanced sweetness.

What's good about it - Interesting and somewhat intense. Crazed, alien sweetshop elements fight with confused maturity. That's fun, but I wouldn't buy a bottle.

Arran - Batch 4, TBWC, 52% A+

arran-that-boutique-y-whisky-company-whiskyNose - Really dark and cherry sweet, quite dirty actually. Cakey and earthy, hard wood and sweet pastry. Softer with water, and real interest underneath the alcohol including a great cask, but there's something holding back or masking its greatness.

Body - A straight but tasty Arran with restrained sweetness, blonde oak and a touch of spice. Some dark chocolate with water, ripe plum and a touch of marzipan.

Finish - Initially really lovely, with deep bourbon cask, toffee and white wine. Quite long, turning into cold teabags, chewed pencil and a little blood. It's better than I'm making it sound to be honest (and hangs together well), quite robust and well balanced.

What's not good about it - There's awesomeness in here somewhere. My initial thoughts were that it was excellent but there's stuff in the way. I get the feeling there is a great cask in here mixed with something less interesting.

What's good about it - Fantastic nose, and with water, beautiful delivery and a lovely well rounded finish. This is initially something to really write home about but falters later. Still, very good.

Always go out on a Society dram… thanks to someone for this, I can't tell from the handwriting. Think it's Matt? This is what happens when you organise your samples, you find stuff from years ago.

SMWS 121.62, Steak and ale pie, Arran, 16 years old, 54.2% A⊕

17th September 1996, first fill sherry puncheon, 574 bottles.

56381-largeNose - Wow - they don't make them like this anymore. Big, meaty and peppery. Herbally sweet, big pastry backtones and lots of gravy with red wine and stewed onions. Against this meaty background is dried orange peel, Christmas pudding (but probably raw) and window putty. Rather good. Water brings more pastry and fig rolls.

Body - Big, sweet but rounded sherry, lots of lovely sulphur, spicy tannins and raisins by the fistful. Meaty and satisfying. Incredibly drinkable with water, like a malty milkshake.

Finish - Very long, heavy tannins and big wood, like chewing a stave. A big satisfying whisky that you could really settle into too - a big tumbler of this, a slug of water, and a box set.  Awesome.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Battle of the Blends 2015

I was, like so many of you, a judge in Battle of the Blends 2015.  It was long ago but Christmas got in the way.  Christmas is almost over in whisky terms now, just the drinking remains so we can breath easy, pour a well judged blended whisky and relax.

For what it’s worth (as you can’t buy the damn things) here’s my notes.  At least they’re filed. 

Blend A (Neil Ridley), 42.1% A+

BlendsNose - Quite dark, juicy and classical. Good dusty wood, sweet dark fruits (prune, blackberry?), lovely cask influence and what peat here is very light and structural. Really quite juicy and delicious. I would guess this is Dave's blend with the Kilkerran and Springbank in it but the sweetness makes me think this is Neil's sherry seasoned barrel.

Body - Sweet but a little sharp and toppy, excellent oils with herbal notes and a touch of spice. A touch of youth too, expressed behind some sandalwood and wood bitterness. Chuggable.

Finish - Medium, quite spicy at the side of the mouth, toffee too at the end.

What's not good about it - A little pedestrian in the delivery.

What's good about it - A delicious, oil and fruit heavy nose with loads of interest. Great balance throughout and dangerously drinkable. A fantastic blend.

Blend B (Dave Broom), 43.5% A+

BlendsNose - Initially but more muscular, with cologne, musk and candle wax. A hint of smoked mackerel? Tobacco. A seriously toothsome nose but with a slightly offputting sour/whiteboard marker note in there. Get past that though and it's very grown up. If this is Neil's blend, then I think what I'm smelling is a big Highland Park influence but I would also call this as the rum cask. Lovely stuff though.

Body - Very gentle - soft wax, soft red fruit, toffee and tobacco.

Finish - Long and rolling, mouthfilling fruit, toffee and tobacco, and spicy peat. Perfectly poised.

What's not good about it - The nose takes a little getting into, quite soft on the delivery.

What's good about it - But a wonderful delivery in the round, great balance between toffee, fruit and cask/peat seasoning.


Very different noses here - much more sherry and fruit intensity with A, harder work with B but ultimately worth it. Delivery is quite compelling with A but perhaps a little more obvious and sweeter. B is definitely more grown up in the delivery with spicier finish.

Both are excellent to be honest - A takes it for the nose and initial delivery, B for the finish. But overall (as I have to pick a winner) I'm going with A.

And hats off to both contenders - blending seems like rocket science to me and these are both excellent.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Cadenhead’s October 2015 outturn

Cadenhead’s continues to roll out magnificent old casks, closed distillery gold and well judged long term finishes that must make most independent bottlers wonder how they do it.  They don’t really seem to be even trying that hard!  But it keeps coming.  This is part one of the release, the second was just released yesterday, including a 26 year old Macallan and a 14 year old Springbank.  The latter is full term matured in what was a full cask of New Zealand whisky shipped over and bottled by Cadenheads.  They just filled up the old cask with Springbank juice.  That’s why they don’t have to try very hard, they’ve just got so many resources! 

I have the Kilkerran Calvados, recent Society Springbank and the just-gone batch of Springbank 15 for notes coming soon, once all these ridiculously massive posts about Xmas whisky are out of the way.  They’re all amazing.

Anyway here’s some brief notes on the ones I have tried.  Most of this is already out and much of it still in stock. 

Littlemill 24 years old A⊕+

Nose - Beautifully fruity and floral, waxed fresh with old cask. Quite an Arran nose with a touch of funk and a touch of grain. Very good.

Body - Quite wooded, spiced and cereal, a little tougher than expected. Refreshers with water.

Finish - Very long, fruity but balanced structure - lovely.

Glenkeith 18 years old, 54.1% A+

Nose - Lovely and sweet, fresh and dusty. Clean but not as light as you initially think, with warm malt and candied orange.

Body - Big, fizzing refreshers, quite warm and zesty. Very balanced sweetness and light cask fruit.

Finish - Quite long, balanced tannins and orange zest. A lovely, clean, "ordinary" whisky.

Hazelburn 13 years old, 50.8% A⊕

Hazelburn-13--cr-200x300Nose - Sweet and somewhat ethereal, white flowers, Drumsticks and fungus, but also quite young.

Body - Ah… beautiful Springbank funk. Quite cheese-like - Stilton. Asian fruit and very sweet behind that, and spicier with water.

Finish - Actually quite a long, cheesey finish. Dirty, but floral and balanced, like Roquefort with truffle honey

Glenrothes 21 years old, 53% A⊕+

G-Rothes-21--cr-200x300Nose - Perfect and very Glenrothes. Quite dusty cereal, blonde wood, green apple and lime marmalade. But like being at the distillery (and Edrington's bottling hall, which evidently just smells like bourbon Glenrothes). Beautiful, though.

Body - Incredibly delicious. Very sweet but gently introduced, with building structure and warm tannins.

Finish - Very long, some sour spice providing balance and some warm wax backing. Fabulous.

Ben Nevis 16 years old, 51.2% A⊕

I find about 80% of the Ben Nevis I have I don’t like but the others are awesome.  It’s a dirty, fruity style that takes very little to tip it over from fascinating and delicious to awful.  At least, that’s what it’s like for me.  This is one of the good ones.

Ben-Nevis-16-cr-200x300Nose - Very complete… fresh fruit, deodorant, lots of mid-range and a very balanced wood and toffee character. Lovely complexity.

Body - Sweetly spiced, plywood and balanced sulphur. Kalamata olives?

Finish - Medium, tannic and quite savoury. Those olives are back. Delicious but (as always with Ben Nevis) slightly odd.

Craigellachie 26 years old, 53.1% A+

I tasted 5 OB Craigellachie last night as part of the tweet tasting and they were all pretty epic.  This one was finished in a Sauternes cask by Cadenheads.

Craigallachie--cr-200x300Nose - Lacquered with restrained sweetness. Dry Oloroso sherry, yoghurt raisins, dark wine and balanced sulphur. Quite restrained though.

Body - Sweet, ripe waxed fruit, bhaklava and lovely wax. Spiced and tannic.

Finish - Quite short in its intensity, but with lingering oak and oils. Classical, but a little "teenage".

Mortlach 26 years old, 56.1% A⊕+

Mortlach-26-cr-200x300Nose - Ripe. Intense; wine gums and meaty sulphur. Pipe tobacco, liquorice imps and pop tarts. Loads of sweet red wine and cut red cherry. Classy and very interesting.

Body - Sulphur, sweet red wine, beautifully balanced between the two.

Finish - Medium long, great balance of wine, oak and sweetshop.

A perfectly sulphured, perfectly sherried and satisfyingly sweet whisky.

Bowmore 12 years old, 58.1% A+

In Burgundy cask since 2011.

Bowmore-12-Burgandy--cr-200x300Nose - Coffee and chocolate. Quite young but very ballsy. The red wine is so well integrated it's almost hidden, with sandalwood box, toffeed and ripe. Quite odd but very good.

Body - Like licking a joss stick, but with a waxed, tropical fruit backing.

Finish - Long, tannic, dusty wood, very intense.

A fantastic nose on this deep red whisky. Sandalwood and dark fruity dominate. Like Devil's Cask "after hours".

Caol Ila 20 years old, 57.7% A+

Caol-Ila-20-cr-200x300Nose - Bright, sweet toffee, clean but no alien Islay. Quite young for 20, with wet charred wood.

Body - Textbook, but with an unexpectedly cereal depth and an insistent, appley sweetness.

Finish - Very long, robust, coastal. More joss sticks, last night's Marlboro light fag ends and white wine.

Classic Caol Ila with a sweet, cereal twist and big tobacco, lemon top notes.

Bunnahabhain 17 years old, 57.5% A⊕

Bunn-17-cr-200x300Nose - Quite excitingly dirty peat, with overripe pear and tobacco (plus crab nets and granite). Delicious (bandages).

Body - Big boiled sweets and Jackfruit. Very Asian and quite young, brassy peat. A real, fruity block buster.

Finish - Long, numbing citrus peat, but big mid-rangey tobacco.

And a couple for the road:

Strathmill 19 years old; sweet, musky, big dusty sherry on the delivery.

Fettercairn 22 years old; beautiful, classy wine and tobacco nose. A big sherry delivery but with awkward tannins.