Friday, 27 February 2015

Glendronach 11yo, Green Welly 50th Anniversary

This bad boy joins the cast of thousands of single cask Glendronachs out there. The good thing about PX puncheons is that (apart from making lots of whisky taste amazing) they're enormous, so this should remain in stock for a little while. This single cask was bottled for Green Welly Stop to mark their 50th anniversary and comes (for early customers) with a free GW glencairn.

Glendronach 2003, 11 years old, PX finish for the Green Welly Stop, 54.4% A⊕

5th March 2003 - January 2015, 649 bottles.

Jan15-GlenDronach50thNose - Deep, black fruit and oils. Rich, cakey with vanilla cream but balanced by complexity, good oak and toasted brazil nuts. Cigarette tobacco - I'm going for Marlboro reds this time. Really lovely. With water, richer and more classically sherry bombed, light spirit sulphur and malt.

Body - Deep menthol raisin, that liquorice allsort that was covered in cyan hundreds and thousands, cough candy and more nuts. Water brings orange and apple juice, fresher oak.

Finish - The first hint of the relative youth of this cracking Glendronach comes in the finish, with a little sourness, otherwise this could have been 19 year old. Then sweet, sweet cereal, sulphur and sandalwood. This is so good I'm having to go back for another dram to add water…

What's not good about it - Not much, perhaps that hint of youth in the delivery.

What's good about it - Bright, rich, complex and balanced. A cracking Glendronach and intensely likeable. Don't hesitate.

Thursday, 26 February 2015


I know close to nothing about Japanese whisky, and hadn’t heard of Mars distillery.  My friend Bret Boivin ran a share on a bottle of the Revival which he scored from Japan directly.  He’s since scored me another expression so here’s a post!  Here’s what he tells me about Mars:

Shinshu Mars stopped Whisky production in 1992 and restarted in all previous releases until now (the Revival) have been from that previous stock.  I think Komagatake is a local mountain (but not sure), as this distillery is located in the mountainous Nagano prefecture.

Interesting thing about Mars is that the stills were copies of the original designs of Masataka Taketsuru (the father of Japanese whisky) and therefore are very similar to the stills at Nikka Yoichi distillery.

Mars "Komagatake" - The Revival 2011, 58% A⊕

I was spurred into writing these notes when the whisky exchange had this bottle suddenly for sale (just short of £100, here) but it sold out before I could get to it.  Never mind, it’ll be back somewhere else and you’ll see other Mars whisky available.

japan_mar2011Nose - Fresh, muscular fruit, furniture polish, kiwi and sour lacquer. It does the "good cask" thing with elegant, musky, slightly cloying sweetness and red fruit. It's spectacular what they can do in Japan with young whisky. With water, opens up a little giving shinier, juicier fruit, toffee and a touch of spirit sulphur. A great nose that has some youth to it but surprises you with other complexities.

Body - Spicy, sour wood, acrylic paint (yes I know what acrylic paint tastes like, don't ask), pear drops and aniseed balls. Quite compelling. With water, more marker pens and volatile chemicals.

Finish - Very long, very hot, very woody. With water, that heat is much reduced, with more pronounced cherry sweets and pear drops.

What's not good about it - Before the water, it's too hot on the delivery. Also, despite the youth this is very expensive in the UK.

What's good about it - A intense, musky, cask led nose that speaks of a higher age and matches the high price. Challenging and fascinating delivery. Seriously delicious to drink.

Mars "Komagatake" - Maltage - 10 years old, 40% A

Thank you Bret for very generously supplying me with this whisky!

20150224_140500Nose - Much simpler on the nose. Freshly bitten red apple, light wood, a touch of orange juice and apple sweets.

Body - Sweet, then bitter and highly wooded. A little burnt xmas pudding.  A lovely balancing touch of sulphur and a touch of spice.

Finish - Short, sweet, clean and finishing on some icing sugar.

What's not good about it - This whisky is meant to sit on the shelves in regular shops and is a standard malt from Mars. Therefore I won't fault it for being a lot simpler than the revival. This isn't challenging.

What's good about it - Fresh, balanced, polite and delicious.  Extremely drinkable.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Aultmore–Last Great Malts range

Following on from the Craigellachie set, the latest from Dewars and Sons is a bunch of Aultmores (although no prime numbers here).  These are in a range with the 12, 21, 25, 30 and 35, and I’ve got the first three here - given the cost of the 25 I doubt I’ll ever get to taste the 30 or 35.

But what a fantastic range, I’d be keen for any of these on my shelf.  The 12 is a well priced, classy glugger, the 21 a deep, complex contemplater – the 25 is a big, classy, classical whisky but sadly out of my price range.


Aultmore 12 years old, 46% A⊕

aultmore12Nose – I love noses like this, you only really seem to get them in non-single-cask single malts, and it’s what I’ve been finding so captivating with the big Glenfiddichs – I guess that’s vatting for balance.  Rich, old paper, leather, musky oak,men’s deodorant and sweet lemon wax, and that malted barley pull that grabs you by the hind-brain.  Balanced fruit, floral and classy wood.  Beautiful, and way in excess of its years.  Water (although I’m loathed to add water to something not at cask strength) doesn’t detract from the light, floral elegance and turns up the classy wood and sweetness.

Body – Behaving a bit more its age now – a little flat on the arrival and a little sour, but with building sweetness, heat and very good, clean, classy lemon wood.  Retronasally very active, with pear poached in hot wine.  Water flattens the delivery further.

Finish – Quite short, but balanced with sweet, ripe fruit and bold with lots of tannins.

What’s not good about it – Quite ordinary on the arrival.

What’s good about it – Fantastic, classy nose, great balance throughout and excellent fruit and wood.  This is a very high quality whisky and would be a lovely summer glugger.

Aultmore 21 years old, 46% A⊕

Travel retail only.

aultmore21Nose – Sweeter, riper and waxier than the 12.  That classy single malt musk and oak element I loved in the 12 is still there with some grape, almost overripe apple and rose in the nose, even some crayon.  There’s an additional roast pork note in here too – lightly swiney and meaty.  A complex, rich, deep, fruity and balanced nose.

Body – No concerns about the arrival on the 21 - clean, intense, sweet and balanced.  Fruity and wooded, developing into intense wood oils and a gentle, rounded heat. 

Finish – Long, mouth coating, rich and very sweet.  Balanced though.

What’s not good about it – Quite a bruiser – don’t expect bubble-gum sweetness.

What’s good about it – Deep, excellent wood and ripe fruit.  Complex and rewarding.

Compared to the 12, the 12 is obviously younger on the nose, but lighter, fresher and more floral, and comparing the two gives more chocolate notes for the 12.  The 21 is richer and deeper, more competent on the nose.  On delivery, that chocolate comes through more on the 12, developing into light, fruit juice and quite balanced and drinkable.  The 21 is a big, serious whisky, with lots to say and interesting and compelling to drink.  They’re very different whiskies with some great components in common.  Both are worth buying but for different occasions.  The 12 is about £40, whereas the 21 is £125 (I think – duty free only). 

Aultmore 25 years old, 46% A⊕+

aultmore25Nose – Less obvious and in your face than the 21.  This is what Glenfiddich does when it passes 18, becomes less obvious and more elegant.  Gentle, clean toffee tones, bookcase (including that old paper from the 12), stewed apple, golden syrup, suet and custard – I want to say raisins but they’re probably just in the pudding.  That toffee note is so gentle but so insistent - very well judged.

Body – Balanced and elegant, but with insistent wood, toffee, malt and tobacco – and a hint of peat, some spirit sulphur and apple juice.  Beautiful, fruity, slightly tannic.  Love the sulphur.

Finish – Gentle tannins, tropical tones and lots of wood.  Hobnobs. 

What’s not good about it – Overpriced, sadly.

What’s good about it – Balanced is the keyword with this expression.  Beautifully judged.  I love it.

I must say I really enjoyed tasting these.  Thanks to Dewars and Sons for the official samples!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Springbank 17 year old, Sherry wood

It feels like it’s taken me way too long to write this review – I’ve been “tasting it” since the whisky show.  It’s a great whisky, but unfortunately my friend Cuan pointed out that it costs pretty much the same as the society only bottling that’s one of my favourite whiskies ever. 

These are both good, and actually very different, despite the similar price.  If you’re going to buy the 17, I recommend you do not delay, it’s pretty much sold out – still available at the time of writing here.

Springbank 17 year old, Sherry wood, 52.3% A⊕

springbank-17-year-old-sherry-wood-whiskyNose – Deeply sweet and sour, not enormously sherried but very Springbank.  Deodorant, old permanent markers, ozone, wet oak, plastic book cover and sawdust.  Lovely, fresh, bright and clean, some orange, some crayon.  Maybe too clean – but Springbank gets clean and elegant sooner (age wise) than many other malts.

Body – Now the sherry – deep, ripe toffee, engine oil and light peat.  Lovely crayon.  Fabulous sulphur and lingering cherry.  A cracker.  With water, juicier and more complex.

Finish – Long, sulphured, burnt toffee and oak.  Very good.

What’s not good about it – Like the Springbank 18, it’s starting to play the elegant game a bit early, and the many litres of 12 and 15 year old Springbank in my collection will attest to my enjoyment of younger springers.

What’s good about it – Complex, elegant and captivating.  Almost perfect spirit sulphur balance, really meaty with balancing sweetness.  This rocks. 

Springbank local barley, 14 years old, for the Springbank society, 57.8% A⊕+

Refill sherry butt.  September 1999 to April 2014, 546 bottles.  I first reviewed this at the Springbank Masterclass at TWE back in June 2014, where I caught the bug.  This was partially due to this whisky (but equally due to the 12 year old cask strength).

20150217_203055Nose – Immediately more winey.  Spicy like a summer pudding on the nose with raisins, grains, and stewed apple.  Intense, dark and brooding.  An epic nose.  Adding water, even “quite a lot of water” intensifies the fruit and Springbank character.  More engines, more magic balloons, more cherries.

Body – But it’s the delivery that really swings it.  Enormous depths of toffee, sulphur and red fruit. Water brings out fresh chalk and fruit toffee, and intensifies the oil and overall experience.

Finish – Long, spicy, hot and oily.  Springbank on 11.  And one to explore with water and lots of time. 

What’s not good about it – Perhaps it’s too intense?   

What’s good about it – The epitome of Springbank. Even with the £50 joining fee (for life) this is worth joining the Springbank society for (by which I mean it’s worth £130 to me).  It’s still in stock.

Comparing the two?  It’s a bit like comparing the Springbank 15 and 18.  The 18 is obviously a bit less in your face and elegant, it’s an excellent whisky.  But the 15 just brings a massive smile to your face.  Here, the local barley is deeper, darker, meatier, more intense and just a massive whisky.  The 17 is much more elegant and gluggable.  But I prefer the big grin.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The London Distillery Company

I toured The London Distillery Company last year with a bunch of other whisky bloggers, before Whisky Live London, met Darren Rook, co-founder, and saw the kit - various liquids being pumped noisily between large stainless steel vessels, and blue plastic kegs full of test spirit. The site is an old Victorian dairy cold room near Chelsea, London. The windows were bricked up then, to save on window tax (a tax on the number of windows in a property in the 18th and 19th centuries - hence the term "daylight robbery"), and during its refurbishment, the London Distillery knocked them through again with the addition of period style windows made in Liverpool.

Inside it's very compact for a whisky distillery, imagine yellow brick with a central white enamelled brick band, the space dominated by their lauter tun, fermenters, copper stills and a mix of pipes. They have two stills; a small 140 litre copper alembic, ‘Christina’, for producing the base of their Dodd's Gin (gin is produced by macerating neutral grain spirit with flavourings and then redistilling it), a laboratory Rotary Evaporator (a small glass still that works at low temperature under vacuum) for experiments and producing the top note component of Dodd's, and a 650 litre copper pot still with a detachable side column. The side column contains five plates, each of which can be set in different positions to produce a different output, which gives the distillery team a lot of freedom to create different spirits.

When producing single malt they detach the column completely, reattaching it for rye production. However, if the team decided to make single malt spirit with the column attached and plates plates closed, increased reflux means that they’d produce a stronger, cleaner more floral spirit . This flexibility is banned by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) – Scotch single malt whisky must be produced in a pot still, distilling wash from malted barley only.  But the London distillery aren't constrained by the SWA, and they’re experimenting with all combinations of the still, grain and yeast to produce interesting spirits. It’s a small operation though - their main still and other fermentation equipment can only produce enough spirit for a single cask each time a batch is made.

I met Darren a few weeks ago at the SMWS bar on Greville street (where he used to be the venue manager and continues to be an ambassador), and he had some plain British malt and 100% rye spirits (new make) with him.  One of these had come off the still that afternoon, another was some rye spirit that had been in cask for 3 months.  I got to chat to him and try the spirits. They’re very good pre-maturation and I can see why they’re thinking of marketing the rye as a cocktail or white spirit in it's own right.

The early mission of the distillery is to explore heritage and high quality single cask whisky. While we are seeing a few distilleries starting to release whisky with "craft" grains (recently Arran's Bere Barley and Glenmorangie's Tusail with Maris Otter), Darren is primarily experimenting with specific yeasts to produce different flavours in the wash and hence the spirit, making use of the national yeast library to retrieve heritage brewer's and distiller's varieties. Of course, barley makes a big difference to the spirit too, and he's been building relationships with English grain producers, such as Warminster Maltings, to get access to barley which correlates with the heritage of each of the yeasts they’re testing.


Because of this focus, each time I’ve met Darren, we’ve spend some time talking about my amateur efforts brewing beer at home.  Homebrew really drives home to me the marked differences malt and yeast make to the wash (called beer when I make it of course). I know that Belgian beer tastes as it does because of the components in the grist and most importantly, the type of yeast. For example, yeast is responsible for some of the seriously orangey notes in one of their experimental spirits, with a variety aptly names ‘Orange Esters’ (although this won’t be make it into the final whisky as this isn’t the direction Darren wants to take their final, consistent single malt). 

Their attitude toward production reminds me in some ways of homebrewers - less about yield, more about quality, more about learning the craft whilst doing something different and trying things out. I'll happily stick half a kilo of expensive hops in a 25 litre batch of beer because I want to see how much hop flavour I can get in there (in the boil, whirlpooling them in in steps as the wort cools, through a hopback into the fermenter, then dry hopping), because I like hops and because I can, and it's fun.  I don't think Darren would hold back from using malts that cost twice as much, or using more of them, or treating them in a different way, if he thought the end result would be interesting and/or great. And we've both got to live with the results for a while (me drinking it, him maturing and selling it).

Tasting these, there's some flavours I've always assumed were cask driven coming through. While we're seeing different malts making a difference to commercial whiskies being released, and some the results of some experiments coming through (a recently Cooley from SMWS - 117.5 – apparently used crystal malt), I'm yet to hear of anyone really using anything but distillers yeast (powerful, alcohol resistant and fast). Over the next decade, assuming it can keep the business model working, we're going to see some seriously interesting spirits coming out of the London Distillery.

London Distillery, 100% Plain British rye new make spirit, 91.4%

20150203_184452This is distilled using two plates on the column, and made with 100% rye when usually you'd have at least 80/20 rye to barley in the mash bill. Rye whisky is usually made by boiling the hell out of the grist and then fermenting the whole lot, grain and all. This is instead produced like a single malt - so after mashing, it’s lautered, crash cooled, then fermented off the grains using an old brewers yeast. It's then run through two distillations, the second one uses the plates on the column (these aren't used for the distillery's single malt).

Nose - Neat: clean new make, light citrus and orange wax. With water, very citrussy, very orangey.

Body - Intense lacquer and wax, with a lot of water, orange oils and pink grapefruit.

Very, very promising.

London Distillery 100% British rye, 3 months old, 59.9%

20150203_183752This is the above spirit, diluted down to 62.5%, then racked into 100% virgin English oak casks with a medium char (these are made by Alistair Simms, the last British master cooper).

This is the “Testbed2" spirit 3 months in. After three years in this oak, they'll fill these casks with English single malt to make a unique English Single malt Whisky.

Nose - Clean, soapy, sweetcorny, quite delicious on the nose.

Body - Bright, clean - amazing for 3 months old!

Finish - Good oils, texture. Again, very promising.

London Distillery, Youngs yeast (heritage yeast 1900s)- plain spirit , 78.1%

20150203_184005This was fermented with Youngs (brewery) yeast strain, from the national yeast library.  It uses the organic Quench barley variety (and a lager malting process) which makes it much more oaty - I tasted the raw malt and it's very edible, but the Maris Otter he's using is much more tasty raw. 

Nose - Beautiful new make - like fresh crushed malted barley. Orange, cake and icing. Actually quite waxy - I always thought that was from the cask? Maybe it's to do with the yeast.

Body - More orange icing, incredibly sweet. Some ice cream. Very good.

Finish - Good oils.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Three new Whisky Broker Arrans and a Clynelish

I hate it when you read glowing reviews and the damn whisky is sold out, so I always try to get them out while they’re still in stock.  Well, these are – and they’re very good, go for it (Arrans here, Clyenlish here).  The three Arrans aren’t all related – the first is a plain refill hogshead (cask 1023), the sherry finishes are the same whisky (cask 884) finished for “several months” in an Oloroso or PX cask.  They’re all excellent.  The Clynelish is harder for me, as I’m an ex-bourbon lover and with the zeal of the converted, don’t like the charred cask heads the cask is finished with*.  Your mileage will probably vary though, it’s well done.


(Three WhB Arrans, pictured with the last WhB Arran, sherried 18 year old)

Whisky Broker, Arran 18 years old, Cask 1023, 53.2% A⊕

Refill hogshead.

20150208_205447Nose - Sweet, white flowers, lightly cereal sour, shaved hardwood and lovely fresh fruit - red apple and grape. It also has that dusky, waxy, deep, expensive wood thing going on, with light leather and tobacco. With water, even juicier and fruitier, honeyed even. Some menthol later. A lovely, complicated and delicious nose. Expectations have been set.

Body - Musky and spicy, very sweet. Chocolate hob nobs, honeyed and full of malt and oats. Water balances out that almost cloying sweetness when neat, and brings out the wood a little more.

Finish - Long, oily, balanced and luscious.

What's not good about it - Well, not much really. Without water the delivery is initially oversweet, but the nose makes up for it.

What's good about it - Complex, fruity, great wood. What a cask!

Whisky Broker, Arran 18 years old, Cask 884, Oloroso finish, 49.3% A⊕

20150208_205439Nose - Immediately beautiful but then suddenly much less complex than cask 1023 with the fruit dominated by sour cherry. But with time, deeper complexity starts to come through - the cherry ripens and is cut, there are deeper notes of leather armchair, library and herbal notes of woody cut flower stalks. Glacé cherry now, deeply sweet, with matching wood and toffee. Lovely.

Body - Wow… bright and shiny and sweet, but then a big whack of dry, nutty Oloroso. I can almost taste the ham I'd be eating with that… Water brings out a better integrated ham experience including the salted almonds.

Finish - Long, dry, like drinking a fine Oloroso. I've never had a whisky do that without being over-winey. Expertly judged. If this was an inferior Arran cask that needed sorting out then it's been done very well.

What's not good about it - The Oloroso comes across as Iberico ham dry tannins. This isn't the crimson sherry bomb you might be expecting.

What's good about it - But it's a fascinating treatment, and works so well. Spicy, dry and salty on the delivery, sweet, complex and full of cherry sweetness on the nose.

Compared to Cask 1023 - less of that beautiful, shiny, chocolate sweetness that we all love in Arrans, but a great swap out for balanced, interesting and non-obvious nutty Oloroso. The 1023 is obviously an old Arran, the 884 Oloroso could be something else - so less of the distillery in it but it's very well done.

Whisky Broker, Arran 18 years old, Cask 884, PX finish, 54.1% A⊕+

20150208_205456Nose - Sweet shop dusty, hay and sawdust. More cherries - black and ripe, and some more glacé. Wham bars and men's deodorant, musky and elegant oak. Fabulous, really warm and complex. This doesn't have any of the deep colour of a Glendronach but it really matches it on the nose. Another fabulous cask. With water, shinier toffee on the nose and beautiful waxy sweetness.

Body - Sweet, much less of that Oloroso dryness, but interestingly sulphured with complex wood and warm toffee apple and a balancing, biting wood bitterness. Water softens that out a bit and dries the palate up slightly.

Finish - Medium, a little spice, more excellent tannins and sulphur. Balanced and complex, extremely delicious.

What's not good about it - really nothing. This is fabulous stuff. Light years from some of the sugar bomb, cloying PX finishes around. Is this skill or luck, where did this PX cask come from? I guess if anything, again, not very Arran (I've never had another PX finish Arran I don't think) but I'll try anything once. Buy now….

What's good about it - Warm, sweet, waxy, bold, complex, elegant and lightly sulphured. Extraordinarily drinkable.

Compared to Cask 1023 - the 1023 is sourer and suddenly seriously cakey and vanilla'd - nosing them side by side emphasises the sulphur in the PX. The 1023 is spicier and fruitier on the palate, with tons of vanilla again. The PX is suddenly gentle and Vimto-y (not a word). Obvious sulphur again. Side by siding the two the sulphur carries over into the 1023 and I'm suddenly drinking an epic Springbank <penny drops>.

Compared to the Oloroso - that dry note on the Oloroso holds the nose back immediately but the same cherry journey needs sitting through before you can really compare them. Then, the sulphur on the PX makes it seem more vegetal and less obviously fruity. The dryness on the Oloroso is a shock all over again, but it's not the disappointing dusty nuts of some recent winey Olorosos I've had. Fascinating.

These three are all very different, and all very good. Hard to call between them - the bourbon is a classic Arran, the Oloroso has that very well executed dry nutty thing going on and the PX is wonderfully deep and sulphured. Buy them all.  I always say that….

Whisky Broker Clynelish 18 year old, 54.1% A+

This cask has had new charred ends added* which has deepened the colour and changed the character markedly (I'd guess - I didn't try it before!).

20150208_211252Nose - Fascinating compared to the Arran - much more grown up but restrained. Freshly planed pine shavings, cognac, deep cigar toffee and (almost) rosemary and cumin. There's a bourbon note to it too, hard vanilla from freshly charred oak which I guess is the fresh cask heads. It works really well but simplifies things a little. With water, sweeter and more ozone, better balanced and more fruit (ripe red cherries).

Body - Clean, sweet, sharp oak. Toffee pennies and red wine cask finished. Balanced and well executed but triggering my Scotch preferences. More toffees and oilier with water.

Finish - Bourbon dominated. Wine cask and bourbon. Medium, and not lacking midrange, with lingering toffee, oak and apple wood.

What's not good about it - This bourbon thing doesn't work for me anymore I'm afraid. Fans of bourbon and Scotch, form a queue.

What's good about it - The cask heads really work on the nose and the Clynelish is a real champ, fighting to get through that hard vanilla onslaught. Great dry, herbal and toffee notes still come through. It works, but I think I would have preferred it in its original cask.

* EDIT: According to Martin at Whisky Broker “The Clynelish cask had the new ends put into it by a cooper before filling in '96” – so not “finished” with the new cask heads, but a refill cask with brand new ends before filling, and the whisky full term in the cask like that.  This accounts for the good integration.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

SMWS February 2015 Outturn

Another interesting, complicated and intense outturn!  Much like the whisky itself.  A Glen Ord (eh?), an intensely sherried Bowmore, an officially-in-the-outturn (this time) Port Charlotte, and another flipping Rosebank.  Not to mention the world’s first ever (I think) 19 year old Arran.  Did you know that Arran hold the record for the longest unbroken run of non-rejection by the SMWS tasting panel? (three years)

I even forgot to taste the Inchmurrin, and tried to stay clear of the Caol Ila for adding to my massive pile of unopened Caol Ila.  I’ll come back for it though, looks pretty good…

SMWS 35.117, Glen Moray, Cock-a-hoop with happiness, 17 years old, 54.6% A+

17th December 1996, First fill designer barrel, 185 bottles.

20150203_162554Nose - Shiny boiled sweets, dried strawberries and vanilla cake, liquorice torpedoes.  Underneath this and some ozone it's deeply sweet with raspberry cream and quite herbal - privet hedge and summer forest. With water, more rounded - pancakes and maple syrup, liquorice and musky wood, and the wet sponge fingers at the bottom of a trifle. A really lovely nose with water.

Body - Very sweet - and surprisingly astringent with lots of spice and that Indian end-of-meal stuff (Mukhwas). Interesting and quite complex. With water, even more astringency, a little too much perhaps.

Finish - Quite long, lots of wood sour, lots of wood all over actually, good oils and lingering cakey sweetness. Interesting and complex but not too balanced.

SMWS 25.68, Rosebank, Vichy kisses, 23 years old, 57.8% A-

14th November 1990, Refill bourbon, 214 bottles.

20150203_164724Nose - Sour pear, crushed rocks, flapjack, warm candlewax, steak sauce, very metallic - copper coins. Complex, austere, rich and interesting. With water, warmer toffee notes manage to fight through the metallic edges, and the age and wood starts to come through better, but this is a troubled dram.

Body - Very spicy, musty, hot wood and more metal. Sweet toffee apple and hot sauce. With water, the lack of integration comes through more.

Finish - Long, good toffee, grapefruit bitterness and sour wood. Ultimately a bit weird and unbalanced, but with hints of greatness.

SMWS 77.36, Glen Ord, Easy peasy lemon squeezy, 13 years old, 59.3% A+

3rd April 2001, Refill bourbon, 267 bottles.

20150203_171104Nose - Pure lemon curd, waxy and buttery. Lemon sherbet, floor polish and key lime pie (including buttery golden brown pastry). More privet hedge, cashew nuts and proper mint sauce (mint leaves, granulated sugar and vinegar).

Body - Intensely sweet, quite hot again, lots of wood oils. With water, much richer and waxier.

Finish - Medium, hot and quite grainy. With water, oilier, some more warmer citrus (orange), quite juicy actually and quite mouth coating. Lots of tannins.

A very interesting, young and (initially) quite harsh dram, but confident and takes water really well.  One of those good, young, intense SMWS bottlings.


SMWS 121.77, Arran, Dunnage warehouse orange boxes, 19 years old, 53.4% A⊕

As far as I’m aware, this is the first ever commercially available 19 year old Arran.

15th November 1995 (first spirit run from the stills was 14:29 on 29th June 1995, so we could be seeing a 20 year old this year), refill bourbon hogshead, 276 bottles.

20150203_165911Nose - Ripe, outrageous peach and marzipan, hazelnut, Seville orange, oily and quite lively and dusty. A touch of swimming pool and some dry black tea. Complex, rich, bright but substantial. With water, almost grapefruity, with a touch of ammonia. Very oily toffee still though.

Body - Orange oils, complex wood, good toffee and nutty, dry sherry. With water, quite dusty, with acrylic notes.

Finish - A surprising dry note at the tip of the tongue, with a really bright orange sweetness.

A very interesting and quite a delicious dram.  Not quite the wall to wall excellence I was hoping for the first ever 19yo Arran but very good nonetheless.

BUY (for historical reasons if nothing else)

SMWS G3.8, Caledonian, Eccentric and Exotic, 35 years old, 53.9% B+

28th May 1979, Refill bourbon, 198 bottles.

20150203_161302Nose - Light, floral cigar tobacco, clean blonde wood, earth. Quite fruity - peach and cut red cherry. Stainless steel ruler. Very natural, clean, austere but interesting.  A refined and lovely nose, really lovely.

Body - Rather hot, very grainy, quite intense, and frankly not much going on . With water, some more grapefruit and citrus in the delivery, and much better integrated.

Finish - Quite short, light bitterness at the end. Almost vodka like, quite a disappointment. With water, more bitterness - almost no wood for 35 years in cask.  Bah.

SMWS 3.237, Bowmore, ‘Candle taking its last breath’, 17 years old, 57.2% A⊕

25th September 1997, Refill sherry, 537 bottles.  Yum…

20150203_173626Nose - Wonderfully intense and meaty. Oily smoked fish, animal feed pellets, pork scratchings, a dusty top note of refreshers... Also, old car (petrol, oil and leather… and dirty metal), dates, men's cologne, and the good sherried Islay thing - lacquered wood, walnut and leather, and good, balanced sulphur notes. A really lovely, complex and intense nose. With water, soft, sweet toffee and fruit, and beautiful sulphur.

Body - Massively intense and sweet, with fizzers and loads of wood. It's actually a bit far with the sweet shop, cloying - not that it doesn't work - but it's so (unexpectedly) intense and uncharacteristic for Bowmore. With water, much more gentle and approachable, seriously delicious.  You can even see the parmas starting to come in for 18 years old (you can set your clock by it).

Finish - Quite metallic, again. Long, tannic and bitter with long, musky, waxy toffee. Water brings out some subtle sweet shop elements on the finish.


SMWS 4.202, Highland Park, Salt and pepper, 27 years old, 45.1% A⊕

8th December 1986, Refill bourbon, 261 bottles.

20150203_172129Nose - Mmm…. Warm wax, dark red fruit, recently painted window sills, quite salty but still very warm. A shed at the bottom of the garden, with old window putty and some thinners, old leather gardening gloves with dusty earth and lovely wax. Doesn't disappoint. With water, redder still, with Victoria plum jam.

Body - Lovely sweet, complex HP arrival with structure and complexity. Oils, deep, high quality wood, ripe pear and tannic tea. With water, more sulphur and wood sour.

Finish - Long, savoury, almost sherried, with touch a touch of sulphur. Water brings much more tannins and toast. Lovely, waxy tropical burps though.

Good complexity and balance, with a classic 30yo HP feel.  Lacks some integration though.

BUY if you’re looking for a way of getting some of that 30yo HP goodness at a good price point, but there have been better, younger HPs recently.

SMWS 127.42, Port Charlotte, Peat freak heaven, 12 years old, 63% A⊕

21st June 2002, Refill bourbon, 127 bottles (I will be surprised if much of this makes it onto the website or lasts more than a few seconds).

20150203_175001Nose - Really sweet and incredibly medicinal - I can't think of a more bandagey whisky! Sauna wood, gloss paint, surgical spirit, and intense summer flowers (I'm no good on flowers so I can't say which). The peat is right the way into TCP, it's incredibly medicinal, but backed by warm, sweet PC cereal. Massive. With water - warmer, sweeter, more fruit juice.

Body - Bright, intense, but balanced, sweet and ripe. Liquorice, dusty fizzers. With water, brighter fruit (cherry, orange) and some grapefruit.

Finish - Long, beautiful, balanced and ripe. Sherry levels of sweetness, lots of Islay, lingering hospital. Water brings wax and Asian wood. Just lovely.

Another very special 12 year old PC.


And finally, one for the road.  A very old bottle from uber-member Chris Davies’ 60th.  I wasn’t at the party but Chris very generously left the rest of the bottle behind the bar and I was lucky enough to get a taste.  Thanks Chris!

SMWS 43.14, Port Ellen, Endless hospital corridors, 13 years old, 58.8% A⊕+

March 1984-October 1996


Nose - Bright clean and fruity, silly putty, flaked gloss paint, bandages and Germolene. Lots of white flowers, very brightly floral on top of grapefruit juice peat, vanilla ice cream and sparklers. It's much more open and white than I was expecting, and certainly younger and more swaggering than any other Port Ellen I've had (although those had had a lot longer in cask). Really lovely on the nose - warm, waxy, bright, complex and aggressive, with that rich, satisfying peat that defines Islay. With water, grapefruit, apple, more wax and the hospital notes really start to come through. I'd pick this up in a shot, if I was writing this nearly 20 years ago.

20150203_175532Body - Bright, rich, intense wood and beautiful sweetness. Green apple boiled sweets, devilled whitebait and very peppery. Absolutely nails the balance between intense peat and sweetness. With water, the delivery is simply beautiful - so sweet, structured, dusty Islay and waxy wood. Amazing.

Finish - Extremely sweet, quite young and very intense. Very long. Dusty, ripe toffee peat, lemon sherbet, love hearts and wet sawdust. With water, possibly even longer, what a fabulous whisky.

Happy days!

Wednesday, 4 February 2015


Happy Birthday to me!

40th Blank Version-Small

Let’s see if I can manage a Fifty post in a decade (here’s Thirty).

sláinte mhaith!

Monday, 2 February 2015

Cadenheads Benromach 38 year old

As my 40th approaches, I thought I’d get something special to celebrate it.  Actually I got a few things, one of which I might save for my 50th (lets see if the blogger platform is still running then!), but this is the oldest. 

This is one of a large, expensive outturn in January from Cadenheads which included an old Imperial, the Serge-appreciated St. Magdelene and plenty of other fun things. 5/7ths of this is decanted for the bottleshare crowd but I have 20cl for sharing on my birthday.  But, first, notes must be made (or it didn’t happen!)

Cadenheads Benromach-Glenlivet, 38 years old, 52.9% A⊕+

1976-2015, bourbon hogshead, 222 bottles.

20150130_184838Nose – This has only had a few days to open up but already it’s an enormous, waxy, old bourbon cask fruit bomb.  Vimto, toffee apple, musky oak floorboards, travel sweets – so, so juicy.  The wood is balanced but intense, lacquered and sappy.  An enormous, but elegant nose.  With water, much gentler fruits, with warm, waxy wood and musk, and gentle citrus notes.

Body – Fruity, then very spicy, then a massive amount of wood spice and wax, and ancient wood – bannisters and floorboards, library wood.  And still juicy.  With water, lots of the fruit intensity is lost and that strident wood structure comes through more.

Finish – Very long, oily and intense.  Quite hot, almost metallic, with cough sweets and lingering wood.  Burps are of Asian fruits and Thai food.

What’s not good about it – Not much.  Whisky this old is hard to put a finger or a number on, as you’re battling so much wood over so long, but this (for me) holds up with the fruit playing such a big part.  However, I would say the wood influence is strong, and overall the whisky is intense, almost medicinal, and this perhaps isn’t what you might be expecting in an expensive whisky.

What’s good about it – It doesn’t disappoint though, with an enormous delivery throughout, tons of fruit on the nose and massive wax and wood oils in the palate.  Very fruity, very juicy, and very moreish.