Saturday, 30 May 2015

Cadenheads - June and July

News of yet more big gear in Cadenheads!  We'll be seeing the following in June and then in July, some really interesting Islay casks.


  • Auchentoshan 23 years old, 46.1%
  • Benriach 19 years old, 47.1%
  • Glen Spey 19 years old, 58.5%
  • Glen Garioch 23 years old, 54.4%
  • Glenlivet 42 years old, 40.2%
  • Glenlossie 21 years old, 56.1%
  • Invergordon 24 years old, 51%
  • Littlemill 24 years old, 53.7%
  • Cragganmore 16 years old, 46%
  • Glengoyne 14 years old, 46%
  • Glen Keith 42 years old, 45.8%
  • Mannochmore 37 years old, 49.9%
  • Miltonduff 36 years old, 44.9%
Where is all this ancient whisky coming from?  Can it continue?  It's blowing my mind... start saving kids.

Then in July:

  • Ardbeg 21 years old, 53.2%
  • Bowmore 26 years old, 56.5%
  • Bruichladdich 22 years old, 53.3%

Frankly, that's a ridiculous lineup :)

Friday, 29 May 2015

Some new Tomatin!

I’m a long term fan of Tomatin and it’s because the whisky is so solid.  It’s not flashy (not always anyway, not until it’s over 30), it’s not extreme.  It’s elegant, robust, balanced and it gets you right in the malt centre of your hind-brain.  And the Cu Bocan (lightly peated, NAS) malts are becoming something of a sleeper hit for me.
Great news!  Here’s some new Tomatin!  These two are OB and show (respectively) solid house style and some serious flair.  In the next couple of months we can expect some more – another Tomatin and the third cask variation in the Cu Bocan series.

Tomatin Cask Strength Edition A+
tomatin-cask-strength-57-point-5-percent-whiskyNose - Bright, sweet fruit. Sour oak. A dark, meaty backnote (charred pork crackling). Dusty mineral and pepper. Classic young Tomatin with something a little more interesting on top. With water, the sourness recedes, bringing out more sweetshop - tiny, brightly colour boiled sweets and refreshers.
Body - Sweet, sharp and waxy - quite hot actually. Kumquat? Great engine notes. I'd swear this has some small element of peat in it. Numbing, oily oak. With water, more structural peat, cigarette tobacco and lovely wax. Much more balanced with water - hey they should let this down with a bit before they bottle it! Beautiful juicy fruit balanced by engine block and a touch of sulphur.
Finish - Long, balanced, juicy and glazed. With water, quite tannic, compelling.
What's not good about it - Not the world's best integrated whisky. Neat, the nose is a bit sour and young at first but give it time. The delivery is slightly awkward - spiced and sweet out of kilter. But this all tones down with a bit of patience. Tomatins often take a while to open up anyway.
What's good about it - Fruit and tobacco, wood and wax. Juicy and compelling with a lovely, structured, tannic finish fizzing with fruit and cask. It's a cracker.

Tomatin Cu Bocan, Virgin Oak A⊕
tomatin-cu-bocan-virgin-oak-whiskyNose - Deeply sweet, tropical wood, cherry tobacco and citronella. Pineapple, BBQed pork and bamboo skewers. Summer perfume. Very much like a night on the beach. Beautiful and evocative.
Body - BBQ competitions (that's mainly pork fat, paprika, smoke, salt and apple juice), tobacco (leaf and smoking), fruit (more pineapple, some toffee apple) and honey.
Finish - Very long, sweet, with dusty pepper and lots of structural tannins and sulphur again. A small, retronasal, flowering of peat. Just a touch of youth in the cereal in the finish, a small flaw in the decadence.
What's not good about it - bah - very little, except some youth. Lovely stuff.
What's good about it - Slightly weird and funky - tropical and Asian - as well as being great Scotch and doing the Tomatin thing of being understated, but unputdownable and excellent. I love it.  Buying a bottle of this.

Thanks to Tomatin for the samples!

Apologies for the continued dodgy formatting, looks like the loss of Windows Live Writer to may be permanent :(

Ardbeg Perpetuum

It’s Ardbeg day tomorrow I believe.  My friends have been living it up in Islay while I’ve been working like a maniac.  But tomorrow is still Ardbeg day.
I toughed it out on the website to get the distillery release (split with the team) and received an official sample of tomorrow’s release.  The latter is (presumably) the former with a bit more water added.  And you know I love comparing almost identical things…

Ardbeg Perpetuum, Ardbeg Day release, 47.4% A⊕
Nose - Fresh citrus and cereal. Summery, like a blonde Kilchoman, with the same youth, but a slightly dirty edge. Salted caramel and crayons. Stewed plums… it’s a little odd, but not unwelcome and certainly an Ardbeg.
Body - Comprehensive and quite complex. Sweet, tannic and woody. More stewed plums and flaked almonds. Salty.  Toffee and hops.
Finish - Long, dusty bitterness, licked joss stick and some acrylic paint. Wet ashtray at the end.
What's not good about it - to be honest, not quite what I was expecting (more creamy sherry and breezy peat), but that's mainly expectation management. The nose betrays the young whisky in here.
What's good about it - but it all comes together on the delivery (uncommon), with great complexity - almost confusing, but it hangs together. The creamy and peat is there at the end.

Ardbeg Perpetuum, Distillery Release, 49.2% A⊕
Nose - Sweeter, less young, less funky and more flinty. Cereal and onion marmalade, pastry and anise biscuits. Deep toffee. Deeper digging for the funk, but it's there and increases with time, and swap the crayons for umeboshi and Play-Doh.
Body - Sweet, balanced, grapefruit peat. Toasted cereal and juicy pear.
Finish - Good development into long tannins and toasty peat.
What's not good about it - Well, not an awful lot. I guess it's quite straightforward.
What's good about it - Quite classically put together I'd say, fruity but flinty with high quality cereal and gentle Islay peat. I'm a fan.

Nose - the 47 has more orange and grapefruit, fresh citrus and ozone. Side by siding them the 49 seems darker and richer, lots more toffee. They are very different. Even with water in the 49, it seems deeper, more toffee and raw cereal, with the 47 lighter with grapefruit juice.
Delivery - the 49 is almost winey, with more fizzing, bright peat. The delivery is significantly longer and more consistent, but overall has less complexity. The 47 - the raw peat has turned into classier tobacco. The whole thing seems classier.

Assuming the 47 is just the 49 with more water, these differences must be the result of marrying! They're both good, I prefer the Distillery Release on first look, but definitely the Ardbeg day release in the round.  I’ll be at TWE tomorrow to get a bottle – well, I’ll be working round the corner from there anyway.  Maybe I’ll expense it…

Apologies for the lack of pictures.  Windows Live Writer seems to be broken with blogger right now and my HTML days were long ago!

Thanks to Ardbeg for the 47 sample.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Blind Tasting the new Laphroaig 15 year old

My initial reaction on tasting the new, 200th anniversary edition of the Laphroaig 15 was “god, this is good”.  But I know what I’m like, I wanted to like it and I was afraid I had my rose tinted nose spectacles on.  A blind tasting is the only way to determine if you’re swayed by the romance of the whole thing or genuinely love the liquid.

So I set this one up – it was going to be the 15, Select, Quarter and Triple but I appear to have finished my sample of Triple so I replaced it with the PX cask.  The results were… both successful and unsuccessful.  A success in that I have proved to my own satisfaction that yes, the 15 is clearly superior and I do honestly like it a lot.  But unsuccessful in that it was pretty obvious to me which was which – the PX was obviously PX, the Select, obviously young.  Then the very good, and good but a bit rough round the edges could only really be the 15 and Quarter Cask respectively. 

Anyway, in summary, yes the new Laphroaig 15 is great.  All tasting notes below tasted blind, and all guessed correctly (and almost immediately).  I’ve downgraded the Select, I guess I wanted to like that too.

A Laphroaig Select, B+

lapselectNose - Light, elegant, apple, mineral, bandage. Some toasted cereal, slightly fetid, lightly coastal with a sweet sourness. Very light overall though, and seems young, so probably the Select.

Body - Sweet, sharp apple, quite spicy. Dusty, wet cardboard peat.

Finish - Quite short, fetid again. Lingering green apple.

B Laphroaig PX cask, A⊖

laphpxNose - Sweet PX (obviously this is the PX), toffee pennies, caramelised carrot, truffle honey and stewed plum crumble (sweet plums and vanilla).

Body - Ripe peat sweetness, a little fire and that wet cardboard peat again.

Finish - Medium, spicy hot at the back of the throat, a suggestion of waxed wood near the end and a touch of orange juice. But very hot and petrol at the end.

Quite a lovely nose, good herbal spice in the delivery but a broken, unbalanced finished.

C Laphroaig 15 years old, A⊕

laph15Nose - Rich, juicy, high quality casks with a pleasing warm wax, orange juice, roasted tomatoes and a dusting of deodorant.

Body - Ripe, sweet, funky with some menthol cigarettes and candle wax. Quite spicy actually, but fresh and delicious.

Finish - Medium long, with fruity peat and orange juice.

D Laphroaig Quarter Cask, A-

laphquarterNose - Lighter, but obviously higher quality than A and B. Clean, sweet cereal and peat, cut orange. Delicious.

Body - Initially rich, ripe and well peated but then some spice and tobacco.

Finish - Long, comes in waves of juicy and raw cereal. Troubled, but a lovely nose.

Monday, 18 May 2015

The Glenrothes


Glenrothes is a single malt Speyside distillery established in 1878 producing mainly single malt ("top dressing" malt) for blends such as Cutty Sark and Famous Grouse.  The distillery is owned by Edrington Group (who also own Highland Park, Macallan, 50% of North British with Diageo, and make Grouse and Cutty).

IMG_3181The distillery was built by James Stewart (then owner of Macallan) in order to appeal to the English palate and was set up to produce a floral, fruity, creamy style rather than the then prevailing heavy, smoky and oily styles. Glenrothes has never been peated, partly due to phylloxera (at its peak when Glenrothes was built) taking out Cognac production for a number of years, producing a vacuum of pre-dinner drinking that needed to be filled.

IMG_3208This is a large distillery, producing 5.2 million litres of spirit per year. As there hasn't been a maltings at Glenrothes for 60 years, the malt now comes from Simpsons of Berwick (in England) although the barley (Concerto rather than Optic) is mainly grown in Scotland. It has 20 washbacks (8 stainless, 12 Oregon pine) each holding nearly 25k litres, the result of a mash of 5.5 tonnes of malt (so 1000 times the size of a typical homebrew!).

IMG_3232The spent draff (and pot ale from the still) is used to feed a biomass converter, shared by a number of neighbouring distilleries, that produces electricity back to the grid. Fermentation is usually 60 hours and is allowed to rise naturally to sometimes 34C, producing a wash at 8-9% ABV. There are 5 wash stills and 5 spirits stills, steam heated, that produce 3000 litres of new make spirit in each batch over the course of 11 hours. These are filled into 70% sherry casks and 30% bourbon casks.

Edrington Group consumes 90% of the sherry casks used in Scotland - European oak is used for these (it has a looser grain than American oak and so the wood itself has a greater effect on the whisky, before the effect of the sherry).

IMG_3252The casks are constructed and seasoned with sherry in Spain for 18 months. The sherry itself is used three times to season casks for the whisky industry, and is then either discarded or used to make vinegar. Edrington will pay around $1000 for a 500 litre sherry cask, and $70 to rent the seasoning sherry for 18 months. The casks are used three times, and then either used as a neutral cask for marrying spirits or sent to the large cask graveyard on the hills of Speyside, next to the community owned and run golf course. This is where whisky wood chips for smoking sometimes come from!

IMG_3250Despite being owned by Edrington, the single malt OB output of the distillery is controlled by Berry Bros & Rudd. BBR were associated with Glenrothes from the 1920s, when they produced Cutty Sark (the non-peated blend that could be used as a pre-dinner drink), but in 1990 they took over the production of OB single malt Glenrothes as a non-blended brand.  In 2010 Cutty Sark was sold to Edrington, who had been blending and bottling it for BBR for years anyway.

BBR took an interesting approach to how they select and bottle casks. Taking their inspiration from Champagne, where only the best wine from a "good year" is selected for a "Vintage Champagne", Glenrothes vintage releases have the year of distillation on the bottle rather than an age statement. IMG_3295When there's a good year, the top 2% of the production is blended for a vintage release. In recent years, the next 3% of production has been bottled as part of a series of NAS bottlings (such as the Sherry Cask Reserve) - multi-vintage, house style and consistent, all of which are at least 30% sherry cask. The remaining 95% goes to blends (like Grouse and Cutty) and of course the blessed IBs such as SMWS and Whisky Broker who do such a fantastic job of selecting interesting casks for us. 

When BBR came to take on the Glenrothes brand, and visited the distillery, they found the sample room full of rounded sample flasks taken from the casks, with quality notes – “Another couple of years”, “Not quite ready”.  They based the design of the Glenrothes bottle on these sample flasks.

AIMG_3251s you may have guessed by now, I visited the distillery, had a good poke round, asked a bunch of questions, watched some coopers traumatising casks and tasted quite a lot of whisky. One of the pivotal moments for me was tasting whisky directly from three casks in the warehouse. The three were a sherry cask made with Spanish oak, a sherry cask made with American oak and a small bourbon cask made with American oak. The question was, which is the oldest. Naturally it was intended to be a trick question, as the younger, Spanish sherry cask was significantly more boisterous, richly flavoured and three dimensional than the others. IMG_3287The bourbon cask, however, immediately spoke of elegance, restraint, balance and deep complexity, and suddenly I "got" Glenrothes. I was getting it all through the distillery tour; the wash is lovely, the new make is delicious, the casks are maintained and repaired at an onsite cooperage, everything feels right. But that old bourbon cask was where it happened for me. I will be hunting out early 80s bourbon cask Glenrothes forever more now! 

The distillery itself is pretty cool too, full of 60’s industrial machinery and, at the time of visiting, quite serenely quiet and clean. 




The mashtun felt ancient and hot.  The giant washbacks are deep and alive with yeast, with fast rotating arms whipping the top off the krausen, the thick Oregon pine walls crusted with the residue from decades of fermentation.  The wash (filtered) was fresh, fruity and quite potent. 



So – some whisky!

Glenrothes Alba Reserve, 40%

IMG_3294One of the NAS bottles that come under the Vintage releases. The Alba Reserve is blended from only ex-bourbon casks in order to “make it kosher”, and in fact a Rabbi comes from New York every year to provide its kosher certification. The story is the non-kosher sherry in the casks mean the Jewish community can't drink it.  I checked with the Jewish community and they confirmed this isn’t quite the case (details at the footnote*). This certified kosher whisky is pretty damn good though and is made with casks ranging from 8-15 years old. It also tastes pretty good on a wind swept Scottish hillside mixed 50/50 with Kings Ginger.

Nose - Fruity, sweet cheers, blonde oak. Orange juice and candle wax. Coconut meringue.

Body - Fresh fruit, orange juice, gentle, light and refreshing.

Finish - Short, lightly spiced, very drinkable. Quite lovely - I can see a long term space on my shelf for a bottle of this.

Glenrothes Vintage 2001, 40%

IMG_3296Nose - Darker, slightly sour but balanced, great complexity. A little wood polish, cut cherry, malted barley.

Body - Lovely and dry, oaked, some peach, a touch of chilli.

Finish - Medium, a little spice, balanced and fresh. Polite, elegant and delicious.

Glenrothes Vintage 1998, 40%

IMG_3297Nose - Darker still, more exciting, some citrus, quite obvious "good cask", some caramel and barley. Toast and butter. Honey, clean sherry and konbu.

Body - Clean, sweet liquorice, lightly spiced and very delicious.

Finish - Long, juicy, structural sulphur and tannins.

Glenrothes Vintage 1988, 40%

IMG_3298Nose - Much darker, warm wood, candied peel, some red chilli and green pepper. Lovely. Clean, balanced, juicy and light honey wax. 

Body - Balanced sherry, very relaxing. Again, lightly spiced, dusty refreshers, mango juice and a touch of pine furniture.

Finish - Long, very balanced sherried elegance with raisins, Christmas cake and lingering tannins. Perhaps too soft?  But a real drinker – balanced, easy going and complex.  One for a stroll round the garden with.

Cutty Sark, 25 year old sample blend, 47.7%.

This was an experimental blend of Cutty that didn’t make it to a commercial release.  Probably Thamdu and Glenrothes with only 2% grain (assumed to be North British).  One of the highlights of the trip, too.

IMG_3299Nose - Massive gummy sweets, intense wax and furniture polish, Foxes glacier fruits.

Body - Amazingly fruity, light sulphur, complex and balanced. Almost red wine-like tannins. Just beautiful.

Finish - Long, spicy, balanced toffee. Fabulous stuff.

I've been on the lookout for interesting Cutty ever since and found a few… post coming soon!

Glenrothes Oldest Reserve, 43%, travel retail only

Contains whisky from 1967, 1972, 1977, 1979 and 1980.

IMG_3301Nose - Sweet, dark sour cherry, delicious wood. Red apple. Dark fruit gums.

Body - Varnish, furniture polish, spicy wood, red berries.

Finish - Long tannins, fresh spicy and clean. This is a cracker, highly recommended.

Glenrothes 1978, 43%

We were rather indulgently given a 10cl “double-double” of these each to drink after dinner.  I kept a little back for some proper notes though… I’ve tasted this before (sample from Yoav) but hadn’t had the education last time.

20150518_200823Nose – Light apples and flaked almonds, pastry, toasted rice, Sichuan peppercorns toasting on the nose.

Body – Fresh, delicate, balanced spices.  Rounded, but structured, lightly spiced and very polite.  Almost Japanese in its courtesy.

Finish – A waxy oil develops, reminiscent of the Sichuan on the nose before.  Quite structured at the end.  Dignified.

Another lovely drinker.  These Glenrothes are well prepared and ready to go, making quite a welcome break from the cask strength single cask stuff!

All in all a rather wonderful trip, thanks so much to our hosts Ronnie, Eric, Caroline and Sophie.  Thanks also to Ben from BBR, Prentron and Matt the list for the great company.  I had a wonderful time and gained a real appreciation of a really classy malt.  Cheers!


* Shai on Kosher whisky:

There are two prohibitions when it comes to sacramental wine: consumption and benefit/enjoyment. Whisky that benefits from aging in wine casks that aged wine from papal estates would fall under the benefit category**. There is not enough physical wine present to fall under the consumption prohibition.

Sherry carries no benefit prohibition, being unkosher wine which is not sacramental. Therefore it is fine to consume whisky that benefits from sherry, but not the sherry itself.

Alba reserve is aimed at people with minority stringencies regarding benefit from nonsacramental wines.

** Glenmorangie Companta falls into this category being aged in wine casks from papal estates.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Cadenheads 20th Anniversary Tasting

I went to a rather epic “20 + 1years old” tasting to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the London shop, the idea being the youngest whisky was the recent Springbank 21 year old (which I very much liked – you can’t try these “old” springers at whisky shows, it just doesn’t work).  We also tried the new Caol Ila 31 that’s been bottled in honour of the 20th anniversary, you can read my rather gushing review here.  They’ve gone through a bit of a struggle in the last few weeks with flooding but there’s some big stuff coming through soon – I can share with you the following teasers...

  • Something very big and old from the lowlands
  • A 40+ year old from Speyside
  • An interesting and reasonably priced sherry bomb from the highlands
  • A really special Miltonduff
  • Maybe a new Longrow Red?

Anyway, here’s what we tried – some big gear here…

Cadenheads, Tomintoul 28 years old, 48.9% A⊕+

I really loved this – I’m so tempted but goodness me it’s a never ending conveyor belt of big, tempting whiskies at Cadenheads.  Finally that Lafite Dailuaine sold out, that was doing my head in…

Nose – Sweet, dusty and beautifully floral.  Wonderfully balanced, juicy and refreshing on the nose.   Some concentrated paint.

Body – Sweet oak, dark toffee, slightly meaty.  Surprising but restrained bitterness and spice.

Finish – A little short, but blanaced and fresh, then some slightly over bitter/peppery wood.

Just the most juicy, floral and fruity nose.  Beautifully spicy, great wood.

Cadenheads, Tormore 30 years old, 55.8% A⊕

A vatting of two fresh bourbon casks.  Imagine having all this 30 year old first fill bourbon stuff just sitting about!

Nose – Warm wax, slightly sour, perfumed, sweet cereal.  With water, milk chocolate, sweet and peppery.

Body – Sweet cider, wax and fruit toffee, light pepper, woody herbs.

Finish – Medium, more sweet cider, lingering sweet oak.  Very well balanced.

Cadenheads, Glentauchers 38 years old, 50.8% A⊕+

210 bottles.

Nose – Deep, rich red fruits, boiled sweets and furniture polish.  Intense and very ripe.

Body – Ripe, sweet, loads more polish and a touch of bitumen. Dark cherry chocolate and sweet tobacco.

Finish – Long, deeply sweet and caramelised.  Sweet chocolate.

Cadenheads, Glenburgie 29 years old A⊕+

Sadly now sold out, primarily as a result of this tasting.  Widely hailed as the best whisky of the night.  Also, this is where my palate starts to give out – there’s only so many centuries of excellence I can gush about!

Nose – Very ripe, deeply sweet, orange and peach.  Juicy, fruity and beautiful.

Body – Sharp, juicy, intense mandarin, deeply sweet oak.  Epic.  Balanced and intense.

Finish – Long, light sulphur, great intensity.

Cadenheads, Clynelish 24 years old, 47.5% A⊕

This is another that really tempts.  A great drinker.

Nose – Beautifully light, juicy waxed wood.  More orange, lemon tart, extremely juicy.

Body – Sweet, spicy wood, rich liquorice.  Balanced.

Finish – Medium long, very poised, waxy fruit to the end.

Springbank 21 years old, A⊕+

Refill bourbon (Jim Beam) and sherry casks.

Nose – Compelling.  Bright, yet damp, lightly winey with red grape.  Does the Springbank thing so well – an elegant yet epic nose.

Body – Dark seaweed, rockpool, tasty and ripe.  Seville orange.

Finish – Perfectly balanced, juicy and resh.  Lingering white wine and crushed shells.  Just wonderful and very satisfying.

Mystery cask, 49 years old, 52.9% A⊕+

This is a cask held in London by a friend of the shop.  Distilled “somewhere in West Scotland” in 1966, it spent time in bourbon, then sherry, and finally in a rum cask, this has been heavily messed with but is very entertaining.

Nose – Dark, old books, sweet cereal, red fruit, cut plum, refreshers and marmalade.

Body – Dark, dusty, polish and red cherry, lots of wax and boiled sweets.

Finish – Very long, very balanced with lingering bright toffee and oak.  Very bright, very fruity, very juicy.  Love it!

Then we had the Caol Ila.

Cadenheads, Tomatin 25 years old, 51.9% A+

Nose – Sweet and beautifully bright, good cereal, warm dust.

Body – Ripe, quite hard cereal, stonefruit.  Structured.

Finish – Long, satisfying and balanced.  Dark, spicy tobacco.

And yeah, it was great to meet the old man of Huy too!  Cheers!

Compass box Hedonism Quindecimus

Perfect weather for a big, fruity but refreshing grain whisky!

Quindecimus is Latin for fifteenth, and is bottled in celebration of Compass Box whisky’s fifteenth anniversary.  Hedonism is Compass Box’s famous core grain whisky blend and has long been a favourite.  There’s been a couple of variations (Hedonism Maximus reviewed here, the 10th anniversary bottling I doubt I’ll ever get to try). As I reported from Whisky Live London earlier in the year, this bottle has a much bigger spread of grain whiskies in it in age terms, including some very old whiskies.  I was really excited to try this in a relaxed environment after the taste at whisky live, I could tell the structure and balance was spot on (as you’d expect from Compass Box) but that it was a really big, satisfying, whisky, but still very much a grain character. 

I have to say it’s rare I reach for a single grain – they can be so minimalist, with great holes in their character.  This makes them interesting and worthy of study, but not really good drinkers.  This blend of grains on the other hand, is whole, complete, and drinks beautifully.  I couldn’t be happier with it.

Compass box Hedonism Quindecimus, 46% A⊕+

compass-box-hedonism-quindecimus-whiskyNose - Bright and golden, with ripe pear, grape and a touch of air freshener. Underneath this fruit is wax crayon, sticky glacé cherries, a faint whiff of petrol, orange sorbet and lilies. Structurally, quite stern oak and a dusting of pepper. As always, it's a wonderfully balanced nose from Compass Box. Absolutely delicious too.

Body - Very juicy, enormously fruity and very sweet, but lightly spiced, with some pepper. Orange juice and zest. Rich and satisfying, soft ripe fruit and dark oak, and everything you want grain to be and so often isn't. Such balance (again) and immensely enjoyable. Hedonistic, even.

Finish - Hotter on the finish with very long sweet fruit. A touch of garage forecourt. Unmistakably grain whisky, and perfectly judged. This scratches the grain itch for me like some many ancient single cask grains haven't (of course that's so much easier when you allow yourself to blend).

What's not good about it - Nothing.

What's good about it - Beautifully fruity, very grain and very satisfying. Juicy, structured and perfectly balanced. Great packaging too. Buy now!

Thanks for Compass Box for the sample!

Monday, 11 May 2015

Lady of the Glen–Glen Garioch 21 year old

Of the four LotG whiskies I’ve tried, there’s been a couple that have really done it for me (the Ben Nevis and the Littlemill) and a couple not so much, but most importantly (for a new IB finding its way) the whisky has always been interesting and challenging and worth drinking.  So I always look forward to what’s next…

Lady of the Glen Glen Garioch, 21 years old, 56.4% A-

1993, American Oak bourbon cask 798, 250 bottles.  Available from Lady of the Glen directly or Master of Malt.

glen-garioch-21-year-old-1993-lady-of-the-glen-hannah-whisky-merchantsNose - Sweet but structured. On the sweet hand: strawberry laces, opal fruits, plastic book covers and honeyed flowers. On the structured hand: light wood, men's deodorant, cut grass and metal filings. Overall a bit mineral/cakey cereal.  With water, better integrated, with more sweetshop, proper cask age showing and the herbal element makes sense. An interesting, oaky, waxy Scotch, with plenty of hair on its chest.

Body - Strong cereal, tannic with quite a lot of spice. Rich and chewy, sweet and spicy, a good balancing touch of sulphur. Better, with water - juicier sweetness (glace cherry and more of that fake strawberry).

Finish – Medium, burnt meat, lingering (good) sulphur and very hot. Water brings out the cereal and sulphur nicely, balancing it off the sweetness and turns down the heat - much better.

What's not good about it - It's not enormously interesting neat. Better with water, but overall this whisky struggles with unbalanced masculine elements like spice, bitterness, sulphur and tannins.  Overall competent, but this is a lot of money for a 21 year old that isn’t quite working.

What's good about it - The sweet fruit and wood on the nose is lovely and well balanced. 

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Three big old Cadenheads Caol Ilas

In the last three years Cadenheads have released three bottlings of Caol Ila from 1984.  Goodness knows what Cadenheads could lay their hands on in their warehouse if they wanted to, there must be tens of thousands of casks of whisky sitting in their name.  I really, really hope we’ll be seeing more Caol Ila from ‘84 next year, I would expect so given the amount of effort that’s gone into choosing the cask for the 31 year old to mark the 20 year anniversary of the London shop!  Just imagine having the choice, the options…. I have a request in for a 30+ year old bourbon Glenrothes, watch this space.

I was late to the party with the 29 (but scored a sample), bought the last bottle of 30 year old (according to the site) based on my overall love of Caol Ila, and the first bottle of the 31 year old.  I think you know how this vertical is going to turn out!


Cadenheads Caol Ila, 29 years old,  55.5% A⊕+

1984 - December 2013, Bourbon hogsheads, 564 bottles

IMG_20150509_193115Nose - Herbal and mineral.  Rye bread and caraway, wood polish, bright cherry sweets and Chinkiang vinegar.  Very sweet, almost solventy like old school permanent markers and coloured chalk.  After you tasted It, the dusty "old Islay" refreshers come through on the nose and there's something almost winey in there - in the way that red wine whiskies can be so satisfyingly meaty.

Body - Glorious.  Tobacco and oak, toast and honey, crystal malt and toffee pennies.  Lots of library.  Rich, ripe, boiled sweets and sour mineral.

Finish - Long, a little sour peat, lurking tannins and the bitterness is quite big but the preceding sweetness and the echoing peat makes it work.

What's not good about it - nothing

What's good about it - So much character and poise.  Big, sweet, balanced, old and important.  Professionally done.

Big thanks to Sean at for the sample!

Cadenheads Caol Ila, 30 years old, 56.2% A⊕+

1984 - October 2014, Bourbon hogshead, 192 bottles

20150509_195631Nose - Sweet toffee, hot beeswax and honeyed malt.  Salted caramel.  Again, that slightly sharp but deeply right, sweet peat is there, intensely ripe and dusty Islay.  This is as big and lewd as any big old SMWS Bowmore, but less silly - the wood is keeping things serious.  Having spent some time with my own bottle of this, I know what a lively, compelling and consistently interesting nose this is - sweet, gentle, but intense and balanced with plenty of funk and fire.

Body - Richer, more cereal and spicier than the 29.  Like a more rounded Sauternes port charlotte, it's got that numbing, stewed tea quality balancing out the ripe fruit and engine oil toffee.

Finish - Long, dusty, stewed fruit and tea.  Chocolate covered toffee and chewed pencils.

What's not good about it - nothing

What's good about it - Deeply, darkly sweet, funky and a bit weird but totally composed about it.

Cadenheads Caol Ila, 31 years old, 54.3% A⊕+

1984 - May 2015, a single first fill bourbon hogshead for the whole 31 years! 168 bottles.  This went on preorder today, and will be available from Wednesday – get yours here.

CAD214-cr-400x600Nose - Sweetly mineral with mini-marshmallows and chardonnay.  Cut red cherries, refreshers, bright boiled sweets, peach stone and acrylic paint left to set in the pot (I'm cast back to my younger years painting Citadel miniatures).  With time, that deep, old Islay funk starts to reassert itself - sweet, dirty and juicy.  I tried this first a few days ago at the Cadenheads tasting for the 20 year anniversary of the London shop and what struck me then was how damn juicy everything was (and everything was old), and this is no exception. 

Body - Gentle, sweet, juicy and fresh.  Yet oaked, musky, acrylic and spicy.  Perfectly poised.  Some fetid peat.  Extraordinarily drinkable. 

Finish - Long, robust and dusty.  Retronasal mango and cobnuts. 

What's not good about it - nothing

What's good about it - Beautiful, fresh, elegant and very fruity.  Bold, structured and definitely a Scotch, and most certainly an old Islay. 

Three Caol Ilas from 1984 – how do they compare?  I really enjoy stacking whiskies against each other like this as you pick up all sorts when you side by side them. 


29 30 31
29 IMG_20150509_193115

N- 29 is sharply sweeter, more winey, a little more tobacco, 30 is gentler, sweeter

N - 31 is obviously sweeter and more toffee, more wax and amazingly, more competent than the 29.  What a nose!
30 B - 29 tobacco, oily, very long finish, 30 is sweeter, more cereal and petrol, oddly more tobacco on the finish, in comparison almost cloyingly sweet at the end 20150509_195631 N - Very little in it - the 31 is a touch more deeply toffeed?  A bit sexier where the 30 is a bit more "mens deodorant"
31 B - 29 sweet petrol, 31 musky, spicy chilli, dank sherry, botrytis, dried porcini.  It's weird how these things come up when comparing! B - The 31 is definitely more roundly sweet, but has much more fire and spice in the finish.  The 30 seems a bit more relaxed and grown up in comparison. 20150509_195651

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Two SMWS Laphroaigs, ten casks apart

The first one is the 29 from the May outturn (29.164 is missing in action, relegated to bar only or who knows when it’ll turn up in an outturn), and at 19 years old is big news for a society Laphroaig right now!  The second is from about a year ago, when we were altogether more blasĂ© about Laphs coming out every month and is a 23 year old – just off my shelf. 

SMWS 29.162, Laphroaig, Surreal meal deal (on Islay), 19 years old, 56.1%, A⊕

4th April 1995, refill bourbon, 209 bottles.  I really wanted to post this while the whisky was still available, but sadly it sold out about 4pm yesterday.

20150505_202625Nose - Gentle cereal and Germolene, sharp mineral, crab apple jelly and raw gammon. Tonic water, Ryvita with butter, white pepper and white wine vinegar. All very bright and backed by sweet dust (popping candy?). With water, slightly funkier, and big, high quality cask (you know what I mean).

Body - Sharp lemon, pepper and mature cereal. Actually quite enormous with deep orange toffee and a touch of rosemary.

Finish - Long, substantial and mouth filling, like eating peated porridge (in a good way). Lingering peated tobacco (now that's something that really should exist). Preserved lemons and bong water (again, in a good way!).

What's not good about it - A little esoteric perhaps? It'd be confusing if I was more easily confused. Lacking some midrange too, although that's only because the bass and treble are turned up so high.

What's good about it - This is the kind of single cask that only the most competent distilleries on the world's greatest, tiny, distillery infested islands can knock out without batting an eyelid. Weird, compelling, vibrant and perplexing. Get some!

SMWS 29.152, Laphroaig, Chapter and Verse, 23 years old, 49.8% A+

12th October 1990, refill bourbon, 206 bottles.

20150506_081005Nose - Sweet, white and hot. Unripe apple, candy whistles, Sauternes and fresh bay leaf. Slightly offputting youth in the cereal though, sour and tannic, and a touch of bandage. Blatantly Laphroaig, wounds and all.

Body - Much gentler. Peat, yes, tannins, yes, ruby grapefruit juice too. A bitter glugger, young cereal, juice and peat bringing you back for more. Fruitier with water, and even more Laph. Lovely.

Finish - Long and constant, toast and honey with peated barley and lemon curd.

What's not good about it - tastes younger than it is (you'd be pissed off if you spent the £300 this would cost you from the distillery). Not the most complex.

What's good about it - Good fruit, good peat and confident. You know where you stand with this one.