Thursday, 20 August 2015

Cadenheads–Littlemill and St.Magdelene

More old, rare and very good whisky from closed distilleries, by Cadenheads – their warehouse must be a wonderland!

Cadenheads Small Batch Littlemill, 24 years old, 53.7% A⊕

1990-2015.  Bourbon hogsheads, 582 bottles.

20150820_143104Nose - Pineapple and wet newspaper. Lightly sharp and sweet, some 10p coin, some toast. Bright, flinty malt with citrus and toast. With water, earthy, more enticing, definitely more balanced with some gentle wood, and finally (with digging) some serious gravitas; Dark fruit, hops, sweet plums, old furniture.

Body - Soft seaside rock, gently sweet with rolling oak, toffee, mint and cedar wood. Light sulphur with water, more fruity sweet notes coming through, lots of soft toffee and nut. Delicious, almost cakey in a restrained way, and a fair bit of candle wax.

Finish - Long, some bitterness, quite numbing with a tropical afterglow, particularly with water.

What's not good about it - Initially restrained. Quite flinty and austere but I'm quite into that at the moment.

What's good about it - But it repays investment. Throughout this is serious drinking - but soft and approachable. Proper old wood on the nose, long citrus and toasted oak in the delivery. Yum.

Cadenheads, St. Magdalene (Linithgow), 32 years old, 58.1% A⊕⊕

1982-2015.  “Butt” – I assume this previously held sherry, 282 bottles.

20150820_143231Nose - Old, dignified oak backed by big, ancient fruit bomb. Glace cherries, pineapple, iced rings and apple. With water, fruitier, a touch of wine and a little raspberry.

Body - Intensely sweet on the tip of the tongue, backed by numbing oak and intense cask wax and fruit. Dried banana, more pineapple, deeply fruity. Incredible complexity and balance, with spice, wood, wax and tropical fruit perfectly poised and no lack of structure. Juicy, sexy stuff.

Finish - Very long, balanced throughout with lots of oils, fruit and barley. Ripe peach and the pits, drying tannins.

What's not good about it - It was pretty expensive.

What's good about it - But totally worth it. Depth, balance, intensity, and screams old and dignified. This is an epic whisky.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

TWE Signatory Triple

Three sherried sisters for The Whisky Exchange by Signatory in July 2015, with handsome green labels and lots of colour in the whisky.

Signatory Clynelish for TWE, 1996, 18 years old, 55.5% A+

clysig1996v1Nose - Sherried. At first, just bright red berries, lots of spicy wine and a little musk. Not too complicated either, reminds me a great deal of Cutty Sark (which I do enjoy). Underneath, a lot more complexity with sweet oak, Sauternes, tart cherry and scented erasers - and a bit of buttered crumpets. Then Turkish Delight - quite clearly. It really is very sherried though – nicely done, but almost drowning in sherry (like the TWE Balblair was a bit – this is pretty similar).

Body - Dark, sweet and sour forward, followed by building but gentle spice. Rum and raisin ice cream. Old wood furniture, cut for the first time in a long time. With water, older wood, banana, slightly vegetal (like spring carrot).

Finish - Then bitter like a dark cherry beer.  Lots of fence panel and a little fountain pen ink.

What's not good about it - It's quite oddly half one dimensional and half complex. That’s the spirit fighting with the heavy sherrying.  And the bitterness in the delivery is at odds with those ripe sherry tones.

What's good about it - I love the sour cherry and Turkish Delight. And that dark, musky, sweet nose is very compelling even if the old wood borders on stale.

This is a quite odd, slightly awkward if nicely sherried whisky. I'm not quite sure what to make of it, although the nose and initial delivery is very good. I'm not rushing to buy a bottle though.

Signatory Glenlivet for TWE, 1981, 33 years old, 51% A⊕

glvsig1981v6Nose - Deep, dark and elegantly red, like 80s glace cherries. Mango juice, old permanent markers and raisins soaked in Jack Daniels - dusty, sweet and oaky. Red fruit!  Raspberries!  That's all, though, folks. It's screaming "I'm an old whisky from an excellent cask", and you can't really argue too hard with that. I'm reminded a bit of the Cadenheads Tomatin 35 although that had bigger balls and sexier fruit (and was significantly greater). With water, almost medicinally sweet, with cough sweets.

Body - Luxurious. Very polite, deeply sweet but with lots of black oak, blackcurrant jam and some burnt toast.  At the end of the delivery, intensely winey and finally some good structure – spicy, dusty wood.

Finish - Very, very long, almost dreamy but with lots of spiced sweet wood. Very waxy, right into the burps. Lush.

What's not good about it - Probably just a hair too far into structureless alcho-jazz (given the price and expectations).

What's good about it - But a big, old, important fruit bomb nose, no doubt about that. And pure luxury on the delivery, with a long, sweet, oily, fruity finish.

Signatory Laphroaig for TWE, 1998, 16 years old, 59.9% A⊕+

lrgsig1998v8Nose - Doesn't disappoint. I'm transported back to one of my first cigarettes - intoxicating, complex, very adult but very sweet. Dark cereal, Germolene in a slightly sweaty bandage, hard icing and low, sweet sherry wood. Glorious TCP and gunpowder, finally. Thank god - have they stopped making Laphroaig like this or have they just stopped handing out the casks to IBs (as constantly threatened)? Meaty.

Body - Ripe, spicily peated, and redolent of ants nests. I suppose that's formic acid? More meaty, peaty gunpowder, with poppadums, sandalwood and matches.  Sharply medicinal.

Finish - Long, dustily numbing and bitter. Complex and so bitter it's probably good for you. That's balanced by intense sweetness, juicy fruits and deep sherry. If this wasn’t a family blog I’d swear, right about now.

What's not good about it - Well, to be honest, you have to like this kind of thing to like this thing.

What's good about it - But assuming you do: This is the antithesis of the polite, "select", tidy Laphroaigs I've been banging on about just very recently. Not only is it unruly, juicy and massive, but it's balanced, artisanal and complete. And it's not as harsh as that 15 year old from last time. Shame it's £20 more but that's life, inflation and market forces.

Now, bear in mind that I told you about the 15yo Signatory Laphroaig for TWE ages before it won awards and sold out and none of you listened.  This is currently in stock, and it’s even on a multibuy offer that takes it to £105.  So while I realise that £120 is too much for a 16 year old Laphroaig, I urge you to (as I have) make hay while the sun shines.


Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Tomatin Contrast

contrastContinuing on their path of being super cool, Tomatin are about to release a pair of vatted single malts that aim to contrast the difference between ex-bourbon and ex-sherry cask maturation. They’re sold as a pack with two half bottles each containing sherry/bourbon casks from 1973 (42 years old?), 1977, 1988, 1991, 2002 and 2006 (9 years old?). I can't really think of a release I could ask more from.

And yes, I know I tend to be a bit gushy about Tomatin…  but honestly, this stuff is awesome.  Is Graham Eunson a genius or does he just have an amazing and very large back catalog of casks to choose from?  Please continue to release interesting/nerd whiskies and big multi-decade vattings that are beautiful to drink Tomatin!  Definitely the brilliant side of NAS.

EDIT the two vattings contain the following numbers of casks of each vintage – remembering that bourbon barrels (195 litres) and hogsheads (250 litres) are smaller than sherry butts (500 litres), but that the rate of evaporation and amount in each cask will have been different.  And then everything diluted down to 46%.

Year Bourbon Sherry
1973 2 hogsheads 1 butt
1977 2 barrels 1 butt
1988 3 hogsheads 1 butt
1991 2 barrels 1 butt
2002 4 barrels 1 butt
2006 2 barrels 1 butt

Tomatin Contrast Bourbon Matured, 46% A⊕+

Tomatin Double SetsNose - Reasonably glorious. Sweet and deep, musky, waxy cask. Barley sugar, candied orange peel, lime marmalade and fruit polos - remember them?! Tomatin's such a grown up whisky - structured and bold when young, a massive fruit bomb (but still Scotch) when old, and I just love them vatted up through the years, like Decades - that was fabulous too. Weirdly, this really takes me back - nostalgic on the nose? Lots of perfume, anyway.

Body - Bright, sweet and toffeed, with tobacco, strawberry laces, and bold oak. Perfectly balanced and well integrated.

Finish - Medium long, with more tobacco, matchsticks, chocolate and plenty of oils. Perhaps a little bitter at the end.

What's not good about it - A duff note with that bitterness. Also, they don't sell it in big enough bottles.

What's good about it - Incredible nose, just glorious. Balanced, integrated, complete and matches that good, teenager, structured Tomatin with the old, fruit bomb Tomatin. Love it.

Tomatin Contrast Sherry Matured, 46% A⊕+

Tomatin Double SetsNose - For some reason I was expecting a bomb. The colour isn't bomb though and neither is the nose, and I am much relieved. More candle wax, but even duskier than the bourbon. More boiled sweets, more beautiful old cask, but with orange juice and candied peel.  Earthier - dunnagey even. Some curry powder and soft liquorice too. Comparing them, the nose on the bourbon is more metallic and brighter, sharper - actually it's sweeter. God, they're both beautiful on the nose.

Body - Ah… well poised. Age, sulphur, cask, sherry. A slight sour tang in there counteracts the dusky, polite sherry.

Finish - Long, some tannins, ripe pear, very long juicy orchard fruit at the end actually, with wine following behind.

What's not good about it - Nothing. Now I know they're both beautiful, two packs of half bottles suits me fine.

What's good about it - A fabulous, old nose that's not past its prime. Perfectly poised wine influence, lots of balancing structure. A very long finish that doesn't put a foot wrong. Superb.

Thanks to Tomatin for the samples!

SMWS August Outturn

When I looked at the outurn list this month I was relieved.  It looked like a straightforward list that wouldn’t leave me bankrupt – maybe a Bowmore and a Caol Ila for the Islay mountain at home?  I should have known – every time I think that the opposite happens.  A great list this month, lots of fantastic drinking and tasting whisky* in the £40-50s, and some righteous older stuff too. 100% bourbon cask.  Prevailing flowers, fags and citrus fruit this month, very summery.

20150730_163154And some bottles that are good but not showing much of their distillery character.  Which is of course (as John reminded me) the whole point of the society and the reason for the “obfuscation” of the producer.  Of course by now I practically count in SMWS distillery codes (Glenfarclas, Glenlivet, Bowmore, Highland Park, etc) and when I see a clock reading 5:45 I just think “Auchentoshan”!  So the distillery number doesn’t really hide anything on any level now for me (and many others).  Even so I shouldn’t let the number cloud my judgement of a bottling, but when it comes to Laphroaig – well Laphroaig is special.  More on that later…

SMWS G1.13, Summer Fete and flower shows, North British, 36 years old, 56.2% A⊕

31st August 1978, 188 bottles, refill bourbon

20150730_161722Nose - Cut flower stems, dew soaked grass, tomato leaf and Werther’s Original. Very herbal. An edge of toasted, planed oak. Quite dark and structured on the nose – restrained but powerful. This is exactly the type of nose I love on a grain. Lovely. After tasting, some toasted bread and liquorice torpedoes. With water, elegant and musky cask.

Body - Quite intensely wooded, a little spice, some marker pen at the front of the mouth and intensely sweet on the tip of the tongue. With water, pink grapefruit  and lots of floral chocolate.

Finish - Long, spicy wood. Almost petrolic in its development. Balanced but intense - and extremely long.  This lingered deep into the Linkwood (next).

I really like this - a grain with real balls and very interesting to drink. I'm not sure when I'd pour a glass at home but it's a fascinating start to the session. Great stuff.


SMWS 39.110, Linkwood, Builders at breaktime, 14 years old, 58% A⊕

1st June 2000, 287 bottles, refill bourbon.

20150730_163424Nose - Light, breezy and bright, with blonde cereal and strawberry. Quite feminine given the name, with dried citrus peel and waxy wood. Bright, fruity and delicious with marzipan and tinned peach tart. Very good.

Body - Initially sweet, then sharp and spicy with tobacco and more grapefruit. Quite a big, young bruiser in a very competent way. Water calms the intensity nicely bringing out the citrus fruit and a hubba bubba note right at the back. This really comes into its own with water.

Finish - Long, more big grapefruit tartness and lots of black pepper.

This is another "apparently harsh" whisky that develops and rewards patience. A cracker, highly recommended, but take your time.


SMWS 36.88, Benrinnes, Fruitilicious!, 15 years old, 54.7% A+

14th September 1999, 176 bottles, 1st fill bourbon

20150730_165142Nose - Boiled sweet fake fruit sweetness, bubble-gum and that posh lemonade with the peel off lid. Raspberry jam on lemon drizzle cake. Underneath you have that dusty cask and toasty wood, backing up the fake fruit nicely -but it's lacking a bit of midrange. With water, again, really lovely, with the balance really coming together and becoming more gentle and cask driven.

Body - Sweet, bright and refreshing, fruity and backed up by tannins and dried chilli. With water, great cask musk and some cashew nuts. Beautiful, really.

Finish - Quite short, fruit toffee and refreshers. Lots of cream at the end. Good tropical burps.

I'm always looking for good cask in whisky and this has it. Another smasher.


SMWS 9.102, Glen Grant, Gun cabinets and flying saucers, 19 years old, 59.7% A+

23rd April 1996, 244 bottles, refill bourbon

20150730_170916Nose - Deep polish, new leather and bright sweets. Orange juice and earth. Detergent and WD40. Fresh rolling tobacco.

Body - Bright, intense, sweet and fruity, with lovely toffee and cut flower stems. Quite grain like on the delivery, lots of wood. Works really well with water again, a little spicier with dried mango.

Finish - Angelica, toffee, rice paper and the membrane on a walnut. Long with lots of herbal notes and chewed flowers. More tropical burps, maybe that's left over from the previous drams though! With water, weirdly, pickled onion Monster Munch?

A complex and serious Glen Grant with lots of fruit and interesting earthy, herbal notes.

BUY, but it's reasonably hard work.

SMWS 58.15, Gravitas in a glass, Strathisla, 25 years old, 56.1% A⊕+

5th June 1989, 170 bottles, refill bourbon.  Biggest whisky here IMHO.

20150730_174722Nose - Initially restrained, but there's some deep toffee fruit in here trying to get out. There's almost a bourbon in here too - dark vanilla, Vimto, cigar tobacco. Now; rose tea, icy winter mud and just a hint of TCP. Now; tomato sauce and oregano, and ice, like a bloody mary. And a touch of natural gas. This is hard work and really restrained but keeping diggin and there's loads in here. After tasting, coconut ice? Complicated. Definitely more coconut ice with water.

Body - Bright, wood shavings, massively sweet and a little winey. Arancello? Really drinkable, and very sweet.

Finish - Long, spicy deeply sweet with lots of orange. Lovely citrus zest. With water, juicier and even orangier.

What a big, bright, zesty, orangey whisky. But big, complex, rewarding and chaseable.  Wonderful, creamy, delicious orange booze.


SMWS 37.84, A real charmer, Cragganmore, 30 years old, 51.3% A+

24th April 1985, 188 bottles, refill bourbon

20150730_180148Nose - Quite tannic and astringent on the nose, like a red wine is (not that it smells of red wine). Sawdust, flaked almonds, iced buns, cut red cherry, lemon meringue pie. Very fresh and young, particularly for 30.

Body - Icing, sweet almonds, red fruit and a big dusty, spicy backing of grist, toast and honey. The nose makes more sense now with good wood and cereal. An extremely delicious delivery, lots of proper "I'm in a distillery" going on here with malt mills, spirit in the air and cut wood..

Finish - Medium, a little watery, but balanced and fresh. Chocolate covered marshmallow.

Initially a bit ordinary but the delivery is just lovely - lots of fresh British fruit (more plum and cherry than apple and pear) and clean wood. But not much to show for a 30 year old.

SMWS 121.81, Intense, lively and delicious, Arran, 15 years old, 55.2% A⊕

2nd December 1999, 286 bottles, refill bourbon.  Arrans are still coming!  And I’m liking these newer ones they distilled with a few years under their belt. 

20150730_180156Nose - Chocolate brazil nuts. Nutty, sweet, fresh linen and a little bit winey with some deodorant and soft toffee. Lots of pastry on the nose when you come back after tasting. A little more chocolate and Sauvignon blanc with water.

Body - Sweet, syrupy with licked joss sticks (dusty, numbing, perfumed), and red apple. More Sauvignon Blanc on the delivery with water - that really works.

Finish - Medium long, intensely numbing (Sichuan peppercorns) with more toast and burnt wood. Water really rounds out the finish - absolutely fresh, tart and delicious.

Another cracking Arran.


SMWS 4.209, The Cinderella cottage, Highland Park, 19 years old, 54.5% A+

30th November 1995, 251 bottles, refill bourbon.

20150730_182335Nose - John says "a peach covered in moss – what…? I can talk bollocks just as well as the rest of you". Window putty in an old shed, AGAIN! Deep, ordinary (in a good way) bourbon cask, acrylic paint, but quite young and restrained. There's a hint of fresh peach and mango behind a lot of paint and some beeswax.

Body - Toasty, acrylic and shaved wood. Glace cherries and rosemary. Cigar tobacco (but a bit dry). Ripe peach.

Finish - Peat seasoning, musky oak, long structural sulphur, cakey with peach stones.

I had really high hopes for this but honestly, it's a bit ordinary (if extremely competent). It's good value though and objectively (even ignoring the distillery) it's probably still a BUY at that price.

SMWS 66.71, An apothecary on a motorcycle, Ardmore, 12 years old, 53.8% A⊕

17th July 2002, 217 bottles, refill bourbon.

20150730_183621Nose - Deep, winey and savoury - charred pork, mussels, and a deep, painty note I would have called out as refill sherry if I hadn't just written "refill bourbon". Sour cherry, mothballs and something to do with photocopiers or printing. Gloss paint on wood.

Body - Light, sweet and charred wood, BBQed shellfish. Quite tame, peat wise but it has good depth, sweetness and lots of midrange. Lovely to drink although it does have that kind of "catch at the back of the throat" peat character I don't usually really appreciate in Ardmores (which comes out more with water).

Finish - Long, fruity and peaty, quite cakey but dry. Spicy but balanced.

This is a good whisky. It might not be a representative Ardmore (although the peat character, rather than intensity, is right) but it's a great thing to drink.


SMWS 93.64, Holidays at the beach, Glen Scotia, 13 years old, 57.4% A⊕

30th April 2002, 222 bottles, refill bourbon

20150730_184902Nose - Sweet and fresh, clean. Ozone and lightly smoked haddock. Quite ripe pears, whipped cream and Pritt Stick. It's a fresh, fruity nose rather than beachy and smoky, but all the same rather satisfying.

Body - Lovely and rich cereal, balanced sweetness, toasted and ripe peat. Cheap ice cream and wafers, catches again a little in the throat but has a bright sweetness on the tip of the tongue to sooth. Refreshers on the tip of the tongue with water, like a big old dirty Islay might have.

Finish - Medium, good wine notes, balanced numbing peat. Another delicious whisky.


SMWS 3.244, Film Noir, Bowmore, 19 years old, 58.8% A+

7th May 1996, 211 bottles, refill bourbon

20150730_190827Nose – Darkly sweet, with red fruit, Guinness and burnt pastry. Sweet cereal, frazzles, wood sugars, prawn crackers, expanded polystyrene and apple juice. It's really refreshing (no, really!).

Body - More red fruit, juicy with dark burnt wood and lots of cereal. Fruity and sweet - burnt brown sugar, caramelised peaches and chewed Marlboro Lights.

Finish - Numbing, like very hoppy beer. Long burnt oak and lingering Sichuan peppercorns. Eventually, liquorice allsorts.

Not a very society Bowmore and it lacks complexity but nonetheless, a very drinkable whisky. I'd happily settle into this in front of a film all evening - maybe this is what I should be buying instead of the challengers?  Maybe you should too!


SMWS 53.225, Comfortably smoky, Caol Ila, 23 years old, 53.1% A⊕

29th January 1992, 254 bottles, refill bourbon

20150730_190843Nose - This is a very comfortable whisky. In a deep, leather sofa, complex and correct way. Deep toffee and wine, cranberry glaze, Chinese wok steamed fish, chocolate malt and fried paprika. This is just what I wanted from a 23 year old Caol Ila. Wine - almost Sauternes with water.

Body - Massive. Retronasally floral and dusty, but deeply, darkly sweet and oaken. Clean and bright too, with fresh apple juice on the side of the tongue. And just sweet, refreshing and fruity. Glorious. With water, even more delicious.

Finish - Medium, dark, rich and ripe with black cherry and burnt wood.  In the end you're left with sweet, beautiful black fruit.

Wonderful. I could drink and drink this all day and night. I'm tempted to put it next to 53.210 “Fantastic stuff” here but it's more gluggable than that. While this might be £100, and I might have given it "only" an A⊕, it's so flipping drinkable it's a strong buy, go for it.


SMWS 29.166, 'Elementary, my dear Watson', Laphroaig, 15 years old, 51.5% A+

1st July 1999, 246 bottles, refill bourbon

20150730_190758Nose - Sweet and restrained again. Copydex glue, smoking rosemary, lightly perfumed and stewed black tea.

Body - Sweet icing sugar, dusty and lightly peated, fried cashew nuts. Hundreds and thousands.

Finish - Numbing peat comes through, like a ghost of Laphroaigs past. Citrus. It's perfectly lovely and drinkable it's just not what I wanted from a Laphroaig.


Now there are a number of factors at play with the review of this month’s Laphroaig. 

First, as mentioned at the start, I shouldn’t be thinking of this as a Laphroaig, it’s just another cask from distillery 29.  That’s true but unfortunately I can’t unlearn the number and expectations have been set.  And as I’m painfully aware when doing blind tastings, expectations make a massive difference (as does environmental context, what I had for lunch, what I drank prior to what I’m tasting, my mood, my state of health, and whether I’ve toured the distillery or have some other kind of emotional attachment to the whisky). 

Second, and like many whisky enthusiasts, I have a special place for Laphroaig in my heart.  It was “my first” (the first I really got) and I’m always looking for that hit.  So when it doesn’t deliver what I’m expecting, and when it doesn’t make me think of TCP and hospitals and beaches I become disappointed.  Furthermore, recently I’ve been being disappointed more regularly – the Douglas Laing Feis Ile 2015 bottling, 29.164, Laphroaig PX, Select Cask… I was fairly philosophical about Select at first but it’s becoming worrying now.

Third, and this might explain number two, it seems Laphroaig is a love you can lose.  Once you ratchet up to the TWE 15 year old you’re left wondering where the next big hit of TCP is going to come from.  Where’s all the TCP GONE!

In summary, I can’t recommend this one.  But your mileage may vary.  I recommend the Caol Ila this month for your own personal Islay lake… but don’t forget the unpeated stuff!

* Drinking whisky = something I want to enjoy while talking or watching a film.  Tasting whisky = something I want to enjoy sat alone and contemplate or write about.  I tend to have too much of the latter open, when I want to drink the former.