About this blog:

This blog will feature tasting notes, reviews, distillery visits and whisky news with focus mainly on Scottish single malts. This will sometimes be accompanied by politically incorrect (whisky) opinions. You have now been warned! :-)
The views expressed here are entirely my own, unless otherwise stated.

Sunday, 30 December 2012


I'll be finishing off 2012 and my first 7 months of reviews and reports by wishing all a
Small German bottler and not least shop owner (Whisky) Doris Debbeler and her husband Herbert releases some very good bottlings from time to time. Rumours says their team as rejected several casks lately because the quality simple wasn't up to their standards... and that is certainly setting the bar high - but also a sign that they won't endorse just anything from a cask.

This is the first Whisky Doris bottling I'll be reviewing for the blog, although in the past I've tried a couple from the WD-team without taking any notes... I remember those as really good too...

Anyway, so why not kick this off with a review of a Port Ellen...

Port Ellen 1982 29yo (xx.03.1982/08.09.2011) 58,5%, refill bourbon hogshead#18, 212 bottles, Whisky Doris

Colour is full straw

Sea breeze, sweet oak, tropical fruits - pineapple and melon, gentle peat and salt. Gets a mineral and oily note along with lemons and vanilla custard.

Very coastal, balanced oak and smoke, the tropical fruitiness is very clear here, salty, very citrussy, getting some medicinal hints mid-palate, also smoked sweet cured salmon and herbs. Nothing ever goes overboard here - everything from the peat, oak and fruits are just beautifully measured here.

A nice addition to any Port Ellen shelf...


Friday, 28 December 2012


Elgin based bottler Gordon & MacPhail has put this one to market through small time Belgian bottler Asta Morris owned by Bert Bruyneel, who in spite of its size has bottled some impressive whiskies already, incl. some 70's official bottlings of Benriach.

This time though, lets have a go at another Caol Ila - lots of them out there, though not so many in sherry casks like this one is...

Caol Ila 1999 (17.08.1999./xx.08.2012) 50%, refill sherry hogshead#305341, 350 bottles, G&M for Asta Morris, Belgium

Colour is gold

Slightly carbolic, vague sherry and fruit notes, subdued peat and cardboard. Getting very 'harboury' (that even a word?) with dried seaweed and tarry bulwark (Google translate - you had better got that word right!!)

Bitter chocolate and smoke, creamy almost oily malt and a distinct fruitiness, spicy oak and hint of coffee. Gets salty and sometimes produces 'greenish' notes I think I would associate with bourbon cask matured whiskies. Finish is on peat and some (too) bitter and drying oak.

A Caol Ila in its prime age for sure, although, it looses a bit on the finish, I think...
Still good whisky, though


Wednesday, 26 December 2012


After a short Xmas break, its time for another review of something quite special.

Around 5 years ago, Bruichladdich offered cask sales of a spirit they chose to call 'Lochindaal' named after the distillery of the same name located in the village of Port Charlotte, but closed back in 1929.

The 'Lochindaal' spirit is peated to 50ppm, which is more than the Port Charlotte spirit from Bruichladdich, the PC being 'only' 40ppm...

I'm not sure how many casks of 'Lochindaal' spirit were sold, but to my knowledge the one, I'm about to review is the first one I've seen bottled.

This, by the way, is a split cask with the guys that runs the danish whisky fair - them getting 120 bottle from the cask. Being just over 4 years old, it should have some rough edges still, but is certainly a fun one to try... :-)

Bruichladdich 'Lochindaal' 4yo 29.11.2007/12.12.2011 67,2%, cask#3332, 134 bottles, bottled for whiskylovers in Denmark by FC Whisky

Colour is pale straw

Vanilla, manure, tickling alcohol, very little new make spirit. A malty and fruity hint carries through. Also some fresh coastal/salty notes there and surprising little peat, though detectable. Water brings out the peat though, but still not as much as expected.

No new make spirit - only hints, creamy, buttery vanilla and malt and fruit, sweet peat also now in good measure, salt water, oysters/shellfish, a bit oily, like a bit of natural sulphur - adding to this whisky. It then finishes straight forward on peat, malt (mash) and fruity notes.

This is only 4 years old??? Wow! Great stuff! I'd love a bottle but price wise it has taken off a bit as with all whisky these days... :-/


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Friday, 21 December 2012


More Islay whisky coming up as promised... :-) This time from Kilchoman who has released another 100% Islay - which means everything from barley to bottling has been done on the island.

Again, its a young release - a 3yo - but time one seems more mature than the first release of their 100% Islay...

Let's try this one:

Kilchoman 100% 3yo 2012 Islay 2nd Release, 50%, Distillery bottling

Colour is very pale straw

Citrus and pear, young peat, new make and clear and present farmyard note.
Also a greenish notes and burning fresh leaves

Perfumy style peat - not Bowmore style, but definitely a very aromatic style. Ash, citrus and fresh spirit...

Not overly expressive but it still performs nicely for a 3yo whisky.


Wednesday, 19 December 2012


It was founded 1779, the distillery's water source is the river Laggan and carries the name of the main town on Islay... we're of course talking about Bowmore...

The distillery carries and distinct medium peated style with a flowery/perfumy hint to it.
This has become this distillery's trademark almost - carrying this style in abundance through the 80's with words like 'lavender' or the less flattering 'FWP or French Whore's Perfume' to it.

Today, the distillery is back on track producing a lightly peated and easy drinkable malt for those not wanting to wrestle an Islay south shore heavyweight.

Bowmore 1997 14yo (xx.06.1997/xx.01.2012), 51,8%, ex-bourbon hogshead, Whisky-Fässle

Colour is pale straw

Delicate, slightly flowery and lemony. Thin layer of smoke and a perfumy note. Vanillas and wet ink/paper, green soda and buttermilk

Vanilla'ed smoke, salt, smoky redcurrant, citrus, spices and fruits with a flowery finish.

A great straight forward and non-offensive lightly peated malt!


Monday, 17 December 2012


I don't know why, but the darker and colder months always brings out the smoke gene in me, and its in these months I drink most of my peated whiskies and I often wonder if others have the same way?

If you do, please comment below the review - thank you!

Now, I've reviewed 8 Bunnahabhains already on here - and I think I've mentioned this before - but Bunnahabhain is really a (still hidden?) gem. Especially the older stuff!

This time I'll be trying a bottling from London based wine & spirits merchant, Berry Bros. & Rudd. I've had mixed experiences with them, though mostly good...

Bunnahabhain 1990 21yo 53,1%, refill sherry butt#18, 616 bottles, Berry Bros & Rudd

Colour is deep mahogany

Heavy, oranges, mint, (diesel?) oil, pine, tea and pipe tobacco

Some rubbery notes and hints of sulphur, dry oloroso sherry, a small hint of smoke and a little spicy oak. Prunes and raisins and earthen floors. Goes herbal with water and gets very spicy, finishing on pepper and oak.

A good Bunnahabhain that I think will benefit from oxidation... still its not all the way up there..


Saturday, 15 December 2012


This was a bottling I really was looking forward to trying, since there's not many different expressions of Lagavulin out there... especially not from indie bottlers.

Well, this is not an indie expression anyway, but a bottling done by Lagavulin for the Islay Jazz Festival 2012. A bottling had been done previously for the Islay Jazz Festival for 2011 and both the 2011 & 2012 bottlings have gotten great reviews.

Now its time to try the 2012 expression here on The Malt Desk

Lagavulin 1997 15yo (07.05.1997) Islay Jazz Festival 2012, 54,5%, refill sherry butt#1824, 624 bottles, Distillery bottling

Colour is light gold

Spiced peat, coal smoke and peat, hint of sherry and turning medicinal like its origins were from down the road at Laphroaig. Something citric in there too.

Malt and peat, peat and malt, seaweedy and medicinal again. Hint of smoked salmon and beach bonfires on a bed of lemons. It then turns sweet and peppery on the finish.

A good Lagavulin this one, no doubt about that, but I'll not join the large 90p praise-choir on this one...


Thursday, 13 December 2012


Just realised this is my first Glenlivet for this blog... but far from my first Glenlivet ever.
Actually Glenlivet was one of my first malts too, besides my starter malt, Glenmorangie 10.

Glenlivet prides itself at being the malt that pretty much started it all, with George Smith taking out a legitimate distilling license back in 1824... Much water has passed under the famous packhorse bridge downhill from the distillery since then and today, the Glenlivet is owned by drinks giant Pernod Ricard.

The bottling reviewed below was bottled 7 years ago by The Scotch Malt Whisky Society and is a shining example of how good Glenlivet can be even though the brand is mostly connected with standard bottlings. The Glenlivet is one of the best selling single malts in the US today.

Glenlivet 2.64 29yo 'Young at Heart' (xx.12.1975/xx.10.2005) 56%, refill sherry hogshead, 186 bottles, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

Colour is light amber

Clean sherry, apples and pears, cinnamon, burnt sugar, mint and brandy filled chocolates, spices and a little earthiness.

Light, ultra clean malt, delicate sherry, some anise and apple pie, gentle oak creates an incredible balance in this one that goes on forever, ending on creamy malt, chocolates and oranges.

Hugely complex and loads of other stuff in there and a dram you can spend hours on, I think... Sadly 1 dram is all I got in this short session, but I was certainly left with a wow-feeling!


Tuesday, 11 December 2012


We're back on the Isle of Islay for a Bruichladdich bottling finished in one of those controversial casks - an ex Calvados cask. Bruichladdich has done loads of cask finishes - some more successful than others - and whisky drinkers have always been split (far from evenly, I might add) between traditional maturation in either ex-bourbon or sherry wood and a variety of other (wine)casks, a venture much explored by the good folks at Bruichladdich.

Personally I haven't had that many whiskies from ex-calvados casks, so I didnt really know what to expect from this one other than I would like to see a Bruichladdich not swamped in whatever cask type it has been finished in... oh, by the way - at Bruichladdich its not called a finish, its called ACE'ing your whisky (Additional Cask Enhancement)

Just to be clear, Calvados is a french apple brandy (distilled cider). More here.

This bottling is also a 'valinch' bottling from Bruichladdich, which means its a 'bottle your own' at the distillery. Its also only comes in 50cl bottles.

Bruichladdich Valinch 'Forbiden Fruit' 1992/2012 (25.09.1992) 19yo 51,6%, ACE'ed in a Christian Drouin Calvados Cask, Distillery bottling

Colour is straw

Mashy, salt and fresh malt, vanilla, white fruits , pears and an elusive apple or am I imagining things here? also natural caramel and a hint of cardboard.

Light grains, apple here now for sure along with the sweet natural 'Laddie style. ligther in style than expected, but still very mouth filling. Some oaky notes gives away to a creamy vinous texture at the mid palate, along with a creamy honeyed malt and sweet fruit.

This is a cask finish (sorry, ACE'ing) well done, IMO - Extremely drinkable.


Sunday, 9 December 2012


Back in September I reviewed an exclusive Springbank bottling done for the Ardshiel Hotel in Campbeltown (review here).
It was a 1/1 bottling and they now have bottlings like this of both Hazelburn, Springbank, Longrow and as far as I remember also of Kilkerran.

I recently tried another of these bottlings, also a Springbank, though not one with a customised label or anything - this one was 'just' for sale :-)

Springbank 1996 (06.06.1996) 15yo 54,4%, Warehouse 15 cask sample from a first fill sherry cask

Full oloroso in colour

Creamy oloroso sherry, chocolates and coffee, slight hint of coconut, oils, a hint of peat and damp warehouses.

Hint of sulphur but then beautiful fresh oloroso, rums and molasses, dark dried fruits and again very oily. Also some high grade coffee, spices and traditional Danish Xmas baking.

Lovely stuff with the hint of sulphur adding to the experience here.
Picture displayed is another 15yo bottling from Warehouse 15, but otherwise very similar in appearance.


Friday, 7 December 2012


Just recently I reviewed a 16yo Arran malt from Blackadder (reviewed here), which is really showing the great form of this distillery as its moving well into its teen years.

Cadenhead have for a long time been one of my favourite bottlers and I was of course looking forward to trying this one too - this just just slightly younger at 15yo.

Arran 1996/xx.04.2012 15yo, 56,9%, ex-bourbon hogshead, 264 bottles, Cadenhead Authentic Collection

Colour is full straw

Sweet caramel/butterscotch nose, creamy hints of red berries and fruit. After a while nose calms down to reveal a lovely malt heart. Water brings out more sweetness from the malt

Grassy, citrus fruits - very fresh and not as malt heavy as the nose suggested. Hint of salt and some 'green' notes and apples. Water brings out sweet spicy oak.

Good malt, this one - but not a good as the 16yo reviewed on 21st November...


Wednesday, 5 December 2012


Located in the East Highlands in the town of Brechin, Glencadam is one of those malts that live its life in relative anonymity... and up until a few years ago only few connoisseurs enjoyed its malts.

Then in 2008 the distillery's range was relaunched by owners Angus Dundee Distillers, along with Tomintoul Distillery in Speyside. The Glencadam abv% was upped to 46% and the packaging got a facelift rather than an upgrade - no need for big extensive price raising packaging, right?

Below we have an older expression that has also spent some time in an old Gaja Barolo cask, which usually -along with Port casks- IMO works ok as wine finishes go...

Glencadam 1977 32yo 15.06.1977/2009, 48,7%, cask#3080, Gaja Barolo Finish, Creative Whisky Company

Colour is light amber with a red hue

Earthy, vanilla and mild spice, a bit ethereal? Ginger and curry with just a hint of red fruit and some slightly metallic notes.

Earthy spices, sweet oak, hint of honey and heather and wet newspaper. Water brings out a more herbal side along with a little cumin.

Strange creature this one, I think and not the best old Glencadam I've had (the others not reviewed on this blog), but not bad either - a malt in the middle...


Monday, 3 December 2012


Before I tried this, I wondered how it would turn out as Port is my other drinks passion...
Port and heavy peat then?

This bottling is from Creative Whisky Company which is run by David Stirk.

Lets check it out below...

Laphroaig 1996 12yo 17.10.1996 50,1%, cask#7295, Creative Whisky Company

Colour is full straw with an red hue

Perfumy smoke, sweet peat, damp earthen floors and malt sweetness and fruit.

Sweet peat again and more on the peat than smoke now. Quiet clan malt and a slight vinous spicy/drying aftertaste - then peat and wine being medium lasting.

Off my head I'm thinking very Ardmore-like and not a medicinal Laphroaig and though from a port cask, I was expecting a bit more influence from the port... Not a bad dram - but not great either.


Saturday, 1 December 2012


Over a period of time, I've accumulated some (more) open bottles and samples from which I'll be doing this fun little home experiment. I've been wanting to do this for a while, but have been busy with non-whisky stuff lately, but now its time to get busy... at the same time I'd like to excuse for a boring text-only post. ;-)

Some resources says that the optimal blending proportion of ex-bourbon and sherry cask is 70% bourbon/30% sherry - so I'll be using this as a starting point. Also the fact that older and heavier style + peated whiskies can be used to create more 'body' in the final result is significant knowledge... besides that, glasses and pipettes are also ready for this experiment...

I've poured 3 glasses of the 70/30 ratio mix for comparison. I will have a 4th glass on the side with a similar pours to use as a taste reference. The experiment will be done at full strength i.e. no water will be added.

Please also read the individual reviews and tasting notes of each whisky elsewhere on the blog to get the most out of my experiment.

Here's a list of the whiskies I'll be using:

Aberlour 1996 (04.03.1996) 16yo 54,4% 1st fill bourbon cask#6837, Distillery - Bottle your own (reviewed on its own here)

Aberlour 1996 (04.03.1996) 16yo 58,3% 1st fill sherry cask#2987, Distillery - Bottle your own (reviewed on its own here)

Dailuaine 1983 27yo 55,9% sherry hogshead#4318, 189 bottles, Adelphi
(reviewed on its own here)

Ardbeg 1993 14yo 46%, bottled 02.2008, ex-bourbon cask, 288 bottles, Cadenhead Original Collection (reviewed on its own here)

North British 1997 15yo 14.05.1997/06/10.2012 54,5%, Ex-bourbon barrel#246282, 175 bottles, Signatory Vintage Denmark Exclusive (reviewed on its own here)

Starting by mixing the 2 Aberlours (bourbon and sherry) at a 70/30 ratio...

20mls of bourbon Aberlour + 6mls of sherry Aberlour

Observation upon mixing - part 1:

Colour goes from straw to gold

The 30% of sherry matured Aberlour mixed with the 70% bourbon matured at first seems to overpower the bourbon at first... I'll leave it to settle for a few mins...

Much better now - the mainly bourbon backbone is still in front, but much more laid back now it has gotten proportion of sherry mixed in. Getting some sherry notes, agreed, but the 1st fill bourbon cask is still very loud and I think I need to up the sherry content.

Taste is more balanced than on the nose, though the wood from the bourbon cask still shows itself on the finish. Time to try and add some depth to this... since the bourbon cask is still dominant I'll add some older whisky - the Dailuaine mentioned above.

2mls of the Dailuaine is now added and left to settle for 5mins. The addition of the Dailuaine at the same time, turned this experiment into a blended (vatted) malt. I'm now also using one of the other initial pours as reference.

Observation upon mixing - part 2:

Colour is gold+
2mls of Dailuaine certainly help to quiet down the bourbon cask, but I feel its still not enough.
I'm adding 1ml more of the Dailuaine...

Observation upon mixing - part 3:

Colour is still gold+
The extra added 1ml of Dailuaine has brought down the backbone of the bourbon cask down to vanilla and oak on an acceptable level, where as before both were very loud, bordering on varnish - again see original tasting notes on the Aberlour Bourbon Cask here.

Here is also when it becomes interesting as I now compare with the original pour of just 70/30 Aberlour. Without taking exact tasting notes, I notice that the nose has clearly become much more heavy and deep and more xmas cake and dark fruits coming through, where as the starting point sample is still very loud and somewhat unbalanced to me.

After a good while more I now find the Ref#2 a tad bitter and drying on the finish...

At the same time I'm now taking initial Ref#3 and adding 3mls of Dailuaine to it for reference before the next step.

Next step - This mix into a blend!

Lets sum up what reference drams I have here:

Ref#1 - Initial pour 70/30 mix (20mls/6mls) of the 2 Aberlours
Ref#2 - 70/30 pour of Aberlour + 3mls of Dailuaine
Ref#3 - 70/30 pour of Aberlour + 3mls of Dailuaine

Now, I'm taking North British 15yo grain and adding 15mls it to the mix of Ref#2 and again, its time to let it settle for a short while... Now, I'm aiming to reach a ratio of about 50% malt and 50% grain, which I think succeeded - so now its time to nose from Ref#2

Now to take a reference here again I've decided to split the now app. 45mls in the mix into app. 2 x 22mls - one go experiment further with and one to taste...

Adding the North British grain is easily detectable on the nose - a much more vanilla, coconut and spicy sweetness shows up immediately, though you can still clearly detect the underlying malt as the ratio is still 50/50 malt/grain. The Ref#3 is still carrying the heavier malt notes and especially the sherry notes.

The taste confirms the nose here (a no. 5 glass). I'm getting the grain on first arrival, but the malt and especially the sherried malt has added an edge here - a decent blend - for a home made kind :-)

Islay in the mix?

I just have to try and add a few drops of peated whisky to this mix - just to see what happens and how much will make the dram go OTT rather than add to the experience...

For that purpose I have an Ardbeg from Cadenhead.
I'll start by adding just 5 drops-  which has no significant effect on the app. 20ml mix, same amount is added to the tasting glass.. on the nose it just show tiny, tiny whiffs of peat, if any... maybe its just a peat imprint in my mind? On the palate its like the mix now has a firmer body.

Now adding 1ml to about a 20ml mix gives it a clearer profile and detectable peat for sure, which goes to show how a little peated malt goes a long way - at least for me here... adding a few more drops bring it to maybe about the level of Johnny Walker Green label (best comparison - I think). The other 22ml mix is clearly unpeated when nosing/tasting.

This has been a fun experiment to do and I hope you've enjoyed reading it.
I'd like to encourage you all to get blending at home... though you should reserve much of an evening for it as its very time consuming and and potentially tiring as your senses are working overtime.

Thursday, 29 November 2012


I think you know by now how much I value bottlings done by Adelphi.
This one is no exception! This cask is the sister cask to the one (#4319) that won the Scottish Field Award in its class in 2011.

Alex Bruce of Adelphi brought a bottle from this cask (#4318) as an extra when he visited last year and boy, was I sure he did that!

Lets talk about why...

Dailuaine 1983 27yo 55,9% refill sherry hogshead#4318, 189 bottles, Adelphi

Colour is glowing amber

Sweet vanilla'ed sherry, red berries, tobacco, fresh cut wood, almonds, chocolate and ginger

Delicious arrival on sweet dried fruits, fairly medium heavy in style though not as heavy as i.e. Mortlach. Then a peppery chocolaty style followed by crushed red grapes and latte style coffee. Very clean sherry style indeed with just the right amount of drying sherry, spices and nutty flavours at the end.

A premium quality dram, this one...


Tuesday, 27 November 2012


Next review is from that cult island and cult distillery, Islay and Ardbeg.

Indie bottler, Cadenhead - a sub branch of the Mitchell company in Campbeltown with e.g. Springbank under its wings as well has bottled around 2 casks each year over the past few years. They've done a lot more -of course- but I've been buying my Ardbegs from them on a regular basis since 2006.

Ardbeg 1993 14yo xx.02.2008 46%, 288 bottles from an ex-bourbon cask, Cadenhead Original Collection

Colour is white wine

Sooty peat, salt and damp and musty cellar. Beneath that is an almost cola like sweetness to it. Then some smoked lemon and wet charred wood, grains and a veggie note as well.

Gentle arrival on peat and citrus, then a mashy and veggie note again along with some grass and porridge. It then gets maritime with salt and tar and finishes off on medium level of peat and pepper.

Not a great Ardbeg in anyway, but rather a bit in style like what I associate with the new 'TEN' ... an with that said a bit too 'polished' and 'styled' for me...

I miss something raw and untamed Islay in this one!


Sunday, 25 November 2012


Aberlour Distillery does some great tours - although only 2 per day - at 10.00am and 2pm. The whisky connoiseur tour is obviously the 'Founder Tour' which includes both tastings paired with chocolates, new spirit experience and whisky drawn from the cask - Last time I did the tour it lasted close to 3 hours! Price is £25... at the end of the tour you also get the opportunity to fill your own Aberlour expression, which leads me - as in the previous review- to the next whisky.

This second bottle your own Aberlour is probably the closest you will get to the A'bunadh style - although this is a single cask - but still cask strength which is a huge plus, of course...

Aberlour 1996 (04.03.1996) 16yo 58,3% 1st fill sherry cask#2987, Distillery - Bottle your own 26.08.2012

Nutty brown/Oloroso

Dried fruits, sweet creamy chocolate, orange liqueur, hint of coffee with milk. Gets more winey with time and a clear cut oloroso sherry style shows itself. Think extra matured A'bunadh here and your close.

Dark rum style sweetness, the creamy chocolate is very present along with a natural malt sweetness, fruitcake and figs in caramel sauce and cooked apples.

Lovely - especially if you have a sweet tooth!


Friday, 23 November 2012


Aberlour does in particular one GREAT(er) bottling - the no age statement A'bunadh!
That said some batches have been sulphur tainted, though thats more an exception than a rule...

This time, I'll be review 2 expressions (in separate reviews).
Both are a part of their 'Bottle your own'-experience when you visit the distillery.

Both expressions are at cask strength, like the A'bunadh, but older - 16 years to be exact... and even distilled on the same date. The first one is matured in a 1st fill ex-bourbon cask, the second in a 1st fill sherry cask.

Aberlour 1996 (04.03.1996) 16yo 54,4% 1st fill bourbon cask#6837, Distillery - Bottle your own 26.08.2012

Straw coloured

Immense sweetness, vanilla, the sugared burnt almonds and danish marzipan. After that malt, oak and maybe a minimal hint of a soap? Lemon winegums, varnish and meringue.

Again an avalanche of sweetness, but also very oak driven this time, especially on the finish. Aberlour is naturally a very sweet spirit and a 1st fill bourbon cask really gets it going on vanilla, spiced apples and pears, custard and a bit of wet cardboard on the finish... did I mention it was oak driven???

83/100! Good, but not great!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


August 2012 saw my first visit to Isle of Arran - and what a beautiful place this is!
We spent the night on the south of the island at the Lagg Hotel (recommended!).
Good food there and fine rooms - no cell phone reception though, but wireless available there in some parts of the hotel.

Lagg Hotel, Isle of Arran, August 18th 2012 © The Malt Desk

The next day saw us travelling up the west coast of Arran to Lochranza and the Arran Distillery which is among Scotlands youngest distilleries, completed only back in 1995. The whisky from there is now reaching its mid-teens and is - in this bloggers humble opinion - has for a while been having a quality to be reckoned with.

The bottling reviewed below is from early 1996 which makes it some of the oldest yet released, though its not an official bottling...

Isle of Arran Distillery, August 19th 2012 © The Malt Desk

Lochranza (Arran) Distillery 1996 16yo 07.02.1996/xx.04.2012, 52,8% oak hoggie#51 (not specified), 299 bottles, Blackadder

Colour is full straw

Medium heavy nose, oily malt, freshly baked paestry and white fruit and oranges, waxy too plus a little varnish

Arrival om malt and natural caramel, lighter than expected from the nose. Even though this is most likely an ex-bourbon cask, I'm getting something that resembles Fino sherry notes with its dryness. Also getting shortbread and spices, pineapple and banana - incredibly mouth coating!

Arran is maturing nicely - this is great stuff and I suggest you try and hunt down at bottle of this delicious stuff!


Monday, 19 November 2012


We're back in the village of Rothes in central Speyside for this next review.
This is, as announced in the previous review, the 2nd Signatory release exclusively for Denmark this Autumn.

Had a wee nip of this one in the store about a week ago, where it came across as very promising. Back in the comfort of my 4 walls, I tried out the sample I was generously provided with...

Glenrothes 1996 16yo 17.05.1996/06.10.2012 57,5%, Hogshead#715113, 293 bottles, Signatory Vintage Exclusively for Denmark

Full straw in colour

Honeyed and peppery, heavy on malt with an alcohol nip, hint of apple, nutmeg and tangerines - very warming...

Medium arrival on spices and barley sugar and malt - very straight forward. Turns a bit drying but never bitter. Oranges and hints of chocolate pops up along with hints of strawberries, licorice root and honey.

I found this one very hard to dissect which I find very intriguing.
This is a great drinking malt - and that's what malts are for, right?


Saturday, 17 November 2012


North British is probably my favorite grain distillery since I find it more spicy and not cloyingly sweet like most other grains.

This one is a Denmark Exclusive by indie bottler Signatory, imported to Denmark by FC Whisky.
We usually seems a few of these every year and the last few bottlings I've tried have ranged from good to excellent - very good picks from FC Whisky for sure!

2 casks have been bottled and are now ready for the upcoming Xmas sale here in Denmark - a 1996 Glenrothes (will be reviewed later) and this North British - so how is it:

North British 1997 15yo 14.05.1997/06/10.2012 54,5%, Ex-bourbon barrel#246282, 175 bottles, Signatory Vintage Denmark Exclusive

Colour is pale straw

Very sweet, but also very closed at first nosing. I'm not getting much else than a little varnish, wet wood and very little fruit. 15 mins later this baby comes alive with clear vanilla, apricot, creamy coconut, fresh linen and white chocolate. Lovely!

Light arrival, first a spicy oak nip but then it rushes on to a stone fruit theme, mainly nectarines and apricots. The character then turns on more traditional grain whisky notes with a spicy sweetness - all very clean, delicate and crisp.
The finish is very much on tropical fruit, coconut and ginger. Again very delicious!

This one is far from as heavy on the sweetness as older grain whiskies usually are. Instead it shows a vibrant young side to grains that we don't see that much of - and I like that!

Good stuff - no doubt about that!


Thursday, 15 November 2012


Danish importer FC Whisky is the only one who's (so far) been allowed to bottle a 6yo single cask from Islay's smallest distillery - Kilchoman. Its a single cask - actually its the 7th !! single cask they've done for Denmark - a very impressive record, IMO...

Kilchoman is really making a name for itself these days with ex-Bunnahabhain manager John MacLellan at the wheel - so much that they risk of becoming a victim of their own success as their casks from their first production years are going fast...

Rumours says this particular cask here in this review will be the only single cask they will bottle from 2006 - time will tell...

Picture by FC Whisky

Meanwhile, lets try it:

Kilchoman 6yo 26.07.2006/08.10.2012, 59,4%, fresh bourbon cask#162/2006, 234 bottles, Distillery bottling Single cask#7 for Denmark

Straw coloured

Picture by FC Whisky
Vanillas straight of the glass from the bourbon cask along with fresh crispy sweet peat and bonfire notes. Also in here are quite a bit of farmyard after a short while.
Only small whiffs of new spirit are left in this one - hints of a little varnish/paint thinner comes to the surface once in while too along with a slight flowery/soapy hint and green banana - like very young Bowmore... I'm thinking fresh flowers thrown onto a bonfire?

Huge on sweet peat and vanilla, of course, then fisherman's boxes, scallops, peppery, some oils and a bit of lemony notes - everything is clean as a whistle though it doesn't last for that long - i.e. a short finish that requires you to wet your palate often to keep your experience going...

This is not overly complex in any way, but very much a step towards a more mature style Kilchoman and it certainly promises well for the future... This is the same time the best I have yet had from Islay's farm distillery!

85/100! ...for the vibrant young peaty style this one has

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


We're heading back to the south shore of Islay for this next review. Laphroaig is -to many- a love or hate whisky... but judging by their sales - especially in the US, the lovers sure outweighs the latter.

Laphroaig Visitors Centre entrance - May 2011 © The Malt Desk

This review is about a Laphroaig as it should be... Cask strength, non coloured and non-chill filtered. Laphroaig needs that punchy delivery that can only be done through a high abv% - and this one does that to full effect.

Lets see what we're dealing with here:

Laphroaig 10yo 12.04.2000/28.02.2010, 62,3%, Refill sherry butt#700052, 569 bottles, Signatory Vintage - Denmark Exclusive bottling

Amber in colour

Slightly sulphured, though nothing disturbing - like its adding to the experience rather that dragging it down. Some spirit burn but underneath there's seaweed and the peat, though not as dominant as one would expect in a young Laphroaig. Also some mint in there and a little 'dirty' sherry cask though it does give off some nice dark fruit sweetness - other things that comes to mind are cardboard, tobacco and cow dung.

Very different! as if the peat only runs at the side of your mouth as your mouth waters from the alcohol. A bit kippery for sure too and more of a rubbery style sulphur here on the palate. Burnt plastic, struck matches and wet tobacco leaves + spicy oak and oranges. Water makes it more drying and bitter on the finish.

A powerful young Laphroaig with lots more to offer than its original brethren.
It has quite an edge and is IMO best drunk neat...

86/100! as its still a bit 'dirty' in style - but good fun!

Sunday, 11 November 2012


Bought this bottle in Scotland this summer and had it open for about 2½ months now and think its about time to review it. Very fairly priced too at just under £60...

Talking about under... Below is a picture from a boat trip I was on in May 2011.
As we were coming up on Bunnahabhain en route to the Corryvreckan whirlpool, we passed the wreckage of the Wyre Majestic, a trawler that ran aground on Oct. 18th 1974 and still sits on the rocks around the point from the distillery.

The Wyre Majestic wreckage and Bunnahabhain Distillery just to the right - May 2011 © The Malt Desk

Bunnahabhain 1989 22yo 22.10.1989/28.05.2012 44,4%, ex-bourbon cask#5835, 279 bottles, A.D. Rattray

Straw coloured

Creamy butterscotch, candied fruits and a salty tang... even some peat, which is a bit unusual for a Bunnahabhain from this era. Barley sugar sweetness and some veggie notes too.

Malt extract, spices and certainly peat again. Also a lemony tang to this and hints of bran biscuits. Green fruits appear mid palate and then gives away to pencil shavings and a little heat and peat again on the finish.

A different Bunnahabhain this on - a bit more raw than their usual style and of course also from an ex-bourbon cask... Good stuff! 86/100!

Friday, 9 November 2012


Again, no need for further introduction to Port Ellen...

Port Ellen 1982 28yo 60%, refill sherry butt#2033, 534 bottles, Wilson & Morgan Barrel Selection

Colour is full straw

Upon initial pour a heavy bacon crisp nose and sweetness. After a short while it gives away to brine, salt, mint, citrus and a wet camp fire style smokiness and hint of chocolate... further time reveals some farmyard notes as well - Lovely nose, for sure!

Very lightly peated, much in style Caol Ilas around the 30yo mark as well. Its sweet, nutty and drying with citrus and also carries a hint of herbs and very delicate sherry notes - very mouth coating. Water brings out more smoke but still preserves much of the same overall notes.

A great Port Ellen this one! No doubt about that!


Wednesday, 7 November 2012


After my brief rant about Dalmore and their heavy use of e150 in my Wemyss 'Tropical Spice' (which is not coloured - review here), I recently tried a bottle of Dalmore 12 with an Italian tax stamp from around 1970.

I was thinking about both 'OBE' and oxidation upon opening it and I actually think I experienced a bit of both...

Dalmore 12yo 40% (app. 1959 - Italian tax stamp 1970), Distillery bottling

Description: Clear bottle, high bottle neck, smaller base - large screw cap

Light amber

Natural caramel, fruit, mineral oil (wet stone?) more fruits after a short oxidation, green grapes?
Later it shows licorice and mint

Bitter, drying, fruits again here, mix of sherry and bourbon casks here maybe? Hint of burnt brown sugar and marmelade, slightly herbal too - is there a hint of smoke in here too?

Decent drinkable bottling and very nice notes in it too - sadly, it just fell apart too quickly


Monday, 5 November 2012


Another hidden Speysider is Glenallachie. It's a new distillery in historical terms, having been built in in 1967-68. It's owned by the Chivas Group and it produces in excess of 3.000.000 liters of alcohol each year, almost all going into blends.

Glenallachie Distillery, Speyside Spring 2011 © The Malt Desk

Glenallachie doesn't have a an official bottling, except for an expression in the Chivas 50cl Cask Strength Series, which also means its far from readily available for you to try as a malt.

Luckily a few casks escape the blenders and this one I'm about to review is one of them... and oh, my... is it a special one...!

Glenallachie 1972 38yo xx.03.1972/xx.01.2011 50% Sherry butt#DL6880, 302 bottles, Douglas Laing - Old Malt Cask

Amber coloured

What a strange one, indeed...Fresh black engine oil, milk chocolate/latte? also giving off some incredible cigar box notes and a feeling of stepping into a mechanics pit... Its a 'dirty' nose for sure - but it works!

Bitter sweet, dark fruits with a smoky edge, hazelnuts and creamy coffee and again with a very oily dirty diesel feeling to it - then some cappucino notes and more old cigar box.

This has to be the strangest whisky I've had in 2012, so far... it all sounds very funky and/or repulsive... but its not - at least not to me!

This climbs way up there to 90/100!

Saturday, 3 November 2012


Usually the Karuizawas we see on the market are well aged, though this next one is only about 14/15yo depending on its distillation date in 1992 - that said, this one was also bottled back in 2007 when Karuizawa hadn't reached the hype status it currently possesses.

Another couple of reasons could certainly be that demand is high at the moment and also maybe (a rumour, I know) that a number of casks are reaching a stage in maturation where they have to be bottled if they're not to go OTT and turn into oak juice... Which is right? only a few selected people at No. One Drinks company knows as they sit on whatever stock is left from the Karuizawa distillery (lucky guys !!) :-)

So, how is Karuizawa at a younger age? lets try it...

Karuizawa 1992/20.02.2007 62,8%, hogshead#6978, Number One Drinks Company (closed)

Colour is light amber

Vanilla and hardwood all sorts, balsa wood in particular, a vague smoke and exotic spices, curry in there? I'm thinking American oak sherry hogshead here...

Nutmeg, vanilla with an oaky edge, damp cellar mustiness, gets spicier with water, getting hints of ginger now as well along with oranges and the faintest hint of peat smoke on the finish.

This one is incredibly well balanced, IMO - and extremely drinkable, even at full strength.


Thursday, 1 November 2012


Glendullan is one of those Diageo workhorses you don't really hear about.
Its often been made fun of, because of its name as its whisky has a reputation of being

They have been producing (along with Glen Ord) The Singleton for the American market some time and have recently been renovated, though production seem to have been slowed for some reason in the spring this year when I passed the distillery.

Other than that, it really beautifully located along the Dullan water before eventually reaching the Spey river down by the village of Craigellachie.

But is this whisky really dull? Had this edition on an earlier without taking notes, but lets be more serious this time, shall we?

Glendullan 1978 26yo, 56,6% bott. xx.04.2005,  Rare Malt Series

Full straw in colour

Heavy, hints of a flowery note, fruit - grilled banana and a some herbal notes. With time it gets more of a mashy note to it. Pretty hard to pick stuff out here, I think

Spicy oak, fruits - pineapple even? some nutmeg and honey melon and a little licorice, mint and a coating of natural caramel. Also thinking a part of this bottling comes from sherry casks as I get a particular sweetness here that I normally only get from that type of casks.

This one in particular is surely not dull - actually very good whisky indeed!


Monday, 29 October 2012


Old Clynelish, especially from the era around where they did large batches of peated malt at the distillery is held in high esteem among malt fans. Oh, and then there's the fact that both distilleries - the new and the old Clynelish were producing at the time - read: they hadn't renamed the old Clynelish to Brora yet...

So does this one come off the new stills on the left side of the road or the old 2 stills on the right side? we'll never know - but lets have a dram here:

Clynelish 1973 33yo 23.07.1973/xx.xx.2006 54,3%, cask#8912, 405 bottles, Signatory Prestonfield

Colour is light straw

Initially grape fruit bitterness, vanilla and oak spices, more than a hint of smoke that dies down to very gentle layer after a while. Some trademark Clynelish waxiness as well as some honeyed notes. It gets much sweeter with time the fruitiness turns a bit more tropical.

Coal smoke, tropical fruits galore here - getting especially banana and citrus fruits and a bit of ginger here, a peppery feeling runs to the front of the mouth and then a layer of smoke reappears with more honeyed fruits on the aftertaste.

This dram will keep you occupied for hours (though you maybe have to re-pour a couple of times!) Just simply a beautiful dram, this one!


Saturday, 27 October 2012


German cult bottler 'The Whisky Agency' is one of the highest rated smaller indie bottlers around. They're know for their sometimes very pretty label featuring everything from sharks to insects and their pretty consistant high quality of their bottlings.

This time, though, I'll be trying an undisclosed malt from them. The distillery name from which this malt comes from, ends on 'clas' - won't take up much of your malt mind capacity to find its origins from that, will it? ;-)

Speyside Single Malt 1995/2012 17yo 46%, refill sherry, 409 bottles, The Whisky Agency in joint bottling with Bresser & Timmer, NL

White wine in colour

Oils, green apples, heavy citrus and flowery notes and sweet white wine

Loads of fruit, freshly cut melon, some spices - then turning heavier into a more boiled fruit style. Finish is drying like a fino sherry and the comes out on top with a bit cereal and malt on the end.

86/100! ... incredible nose on this one!

Thursday, 25 October 2012


I've personally been coming to the Spirit of Speyside Spring Festival since 2010 now but only once have I been to the Autumn Festival which was in 2010.

Bruce Crichton from Falkirk, on the other hand is a hardened festival goer for years on now - and come end of each festival - either Spring og Autumn - he does a write up of the festival from his POV.

Here's Bruce's take on the Autumn Speyide Whisky Festival 2012:

Autumn Speyside Whisky Festival 2012
Report by Bruce Crichton

After reading ‘Bungee Jumping for Crocodilians’ by Torquemada McGeachie, I headed to Dufftown. Now with added bounce and snap, the Autumn Speyside Whisky festival was just what I needed and after several days of great whisky, food, music, dastardly upstaging attempts, uncharacteristic mercy, fancy dress, health and safety and the spectacular end to a legendary unbeaten streak, here is my account of it.

This report is not a definitive guide and may contain factual errors, for which I apologize in advance. Tasting notes are subjective and comment is added from experts present during note taking. Also, I make the reader aware that it’s nearly impossible to present a tasting and report on it so notes are necessarily brief. To shorten the report, I refer the reader to previous reports and tastings when a whisky re-appears and have also assumed the reader is familiar with widely available bottlings mentioned. Any cask samples tasted are described briefly, since these are not available for the reader to buy. Finally, any water added was, literally, one drop and whiskies were 40% abv, if the strength is not otherwise indicated.

Whiskyshop Dufftown’s own bottled whiskies

Warming up the festival on Thursday night was Whisky Shop Dufftown (WSD) owner, the invincible Mike Lord who was presenting his new range of mystery malts. (Mike has held own while standing on his head in a land where no human eye has ever set foot and that’s not easy said or done.)

The three malts are designed to be easy drinking session whiskies. The 10 year old Speyside was a vatting of sherry and bourbon casks and was notably fruity in taste. The 21 year old, from a different distillery, came from refill sherry casks and had the taste of fizzy sweets. Both of these whiskies, in this writer’s view, were probably components of a popular blend associated with the town of Dumbarton. The 10 year old Islay, at 43%abv, was amiably smoky though no toffee or mint notes were noticeable.

Also recommended and still available at the time of writing are the WSD exclusive 1994 Imperial and 1994 Benrinnes, both reviewed in Autumn 2011, and the WSD 1999 Adelphi Cragganmore, at 53.3%abv. Taken from a refill sherry butt that had Refresher sweets and Parma violet aromas, with a rich and velvety taste and classic sherry maturation notes, while the finish brought to mind Christmas cake and brandy butter.

Mates of the Museum

As usual, the ‘mating’ brought together old friends and new over a few civilized drams and Tomintoul Whisky Castle owner Mike Drury presented 3 single cask whiskies from his exclusive collection. The first of these was from Speyside Distillery and some 30 bottles were for sale to raise cash for the museum. A 1995 Mortlach, from Gordon and MacPhail (G&M), had been matured, unusually, in an Amontillado sherry cask and had a fruit syrupy nose while a Signatory 1995 Glenrothes was from a particularly dark sherry butt that gave it classic sherry flavours like rich fruitcake and toffee and a particularly long finish.

Tamdhu and Benriach bus tour

Our expert bus driver Charlie took us to the recently reopened Tamdhu distillery where Sandy Coutts was our guide. Now owned by Ian MacLeod, the distillery was built in 1897 before being extended in 1973 before being closed by then owners, Edrington, in 2010 but transferred to the current owners in 2011.

The once-famous Saladin maltings are now defunct but the distillery retains a thousand ton malt storage capacity that is very handy in winter. 11.85 tons of very slightly peated malt are used per mash and production of 4 million litres of alcohol is possible though current production is about half that. The new malt used is also slightly more heavily peated than that used by the previous owners.

A 74 hour fermentation takes place and six rather squat stills aim to produce a character that Sandy describes as ‘fruity and fragrant’ while a computer screen was available that showed the profile, temperature and filling status of the stills. The vast bulk of the spirit is filled into casks away from the site with some going to customers, some going to blends and the rest for single malt bottling.

Casks are filled at 69.8% alcohol, which has become the new norm for most distilleries, up from the previous norm of 63.5%. This saves space and casks, some 18000 of which are on site at any given time. Tamdhu is mostly filled into bourbon or refill sherry casks and, in the future, possibly 2 months production per year may be given over to producing heavily peated spirit.
Looking to the future, Ian MacLeod will be introducing 12 and 18 year old expressions next May and we rounded off the tour with a taste of the old, Edrington-released, non-age statement (NAS) bottling that was rather bitter and slightly winy, being only interesting in a historical sense as this release has long been discontinued. Much more like it was the G&M 2001 cask strength Tamdhu, reviewed in the Spring 2012 report, that is so smooth that a bucket of it can be consumed neat and with the greatest of ease.

With that, we bade Sandy farewell and headed to Benriach where warehouse manager Ewan George took us round the resurgent distillery that produced 2.2 million litres last year, up 600,000 from the previous year. About 500,000 litres of this were unpeated spirit and 200,000 litres were peated spirit for their own use and the rest going for blending and customers. Ewan noted that the distillery was opened in 1898 and closed in 1900, reckoning that, if the maltings were 500 yards closer down the road to neighbouring Longmorn distillery, Benriach would have been demolished long ago as the maltings fed Longmorn.

Peated spirit production is carried out at the start of the year to get it through the system and the non-peated spirit, at 67.9%abv, has a light, floral character with notes of cereal while sister distillery Glendronach is thick and heavy. The distillery swaps spirit with other distilleries for blending and vatting, demonstrating the keen acumen that has made Scotch whisky what it is today. Other spirit is filled at Tomatin distillery for third parties.

Benriach inherited extensive stock from previous owners Chivas and there followed a tour of the warehouses and the casks sampled included a 1978 ex-sherry butt that had been split and filled into two octaves casks: one virgin oak and the other ex-bourbon. Another 1978 vintage cask had been filled into a third fill bourbon cask and was still in the high forties in its alcoholic strength. A 1975 vintage had been put into a second fill sherry cask while a 1977 vintage had spent 5 years in a rum cask that, according to Ewan, lightens its colour and draws sugars from the cask. After that, we had a delicious 1984 cask of peated whisky, in the low fifties in strength, with the eventual destination likely to be the current 25 year old ‘Authenticus’ bottling, given Benriach’s policy of over ageing their casks.

We ended with the exceptionally sweet, light and effervescent 20 year old standard bottling, at 43%abv, and some of the award winning 25 year old, at 50%abv, vatted together from bourbon and oloroso sherry casks to give it a luxurious and velvety texture with rich sweetness and Turkish delight to taste.

Gordon and MacPhail’s Tasting

The first Whisky Shop Dufftown (WSD) tasting began with owner Mike Lord making his health and safety announcements in his hi-vis jacket and luminous yellow hardhat. (Health and safety when you’re invincible? That’s perplexing). After that, Mike Patterson from Gordon and MacPhail (G&M) began with a 1993 Connoisseur’s Choice (CC) Craigellachie, at 46%abv, the standard strength for future CC releases. Matured in remade, refill bourbon casks, it had sweet, floral, grassy aromas with hints of Refresher sweets and Parma violets and Mike Patterson considers it to be a very good aperitif.

A 1990 Speymalt from Macallan distillery, at 43%abv, from first and second-fill sherry casks was lighter to taste than nose with characteristic treacle and Bovril flavours and smells while a 2005 Benromach Sassicaia finish, at 45%abv, had fizzy violet sweets on the nose and this changed as the whisky was allowed to breath. It had a hint of smoke and some red berry fruitiness. Sassicaia is a highly prized Italian wine and this had spent 29 months in these casks, having begun life in bourbon and sherry casks.

A 1991 Linkwood, at 54.3%abv, was taken from 2 first fill sherry casks and had both bubble gum and honey on the nose with a rich, fruity taste as well as wedding cake, honey again and a hint of smoke that persisted through the very long finish. Danish festivalgoer Morten found it to have cedar wood notes.

We ended with batch 4 of Benromach Peat Smoke, at 46%abv, which was peated to 35ppm as opposed to the forthcoming release at 53ppm. Mike Patterson reckoned this was the best batch yet and it is far lighter than the figures would indicate with some deliciously sweet vanilla and smoke throughout.

Mark Vs Bruce 2: the sequel

Last autumn’s Mark Vs Bruce demanded a sequel and so it was that, for the second time, I challenged Mark Watt, the man who drinks twice a year: once on his birthday and once when it isn’t his birthday. Sequels rarely surpass the original but this one did as both of us performed far better than before.

The foot was once again on the other hand as I entered first, to the sounds of Van Halen, and Mike Lord asked me, through the microphone, was I confident of victory? “Yes and no” I replied before a seemingly inexplicable pause as I waited for my opponent to enter. Suddenly, the delay made sense as Mark entered to ‘Imperial attack’ from ‘Star Wars’ and dressed in a Darth Vader costume in an audacious attempt to upstage me which might have worked had I not already formulated a plan one day after last years’ event.

I began gently with the Auchentoshan Valinch, at 57.5%abv, which is Auchentoshan ‘Classic’ before it is chill-filtered and diluted, noting that I’d never needed to add water to this dram though festival regular Danny Maguire found that it could take a lot of water, making it ideal for his forthcoming walking holiday through the streets of Venice.

Moving on to the 2006 Bruichladdich Islay Barley, at 50%abv, I pointed out that this is the second in a series of limited releases where the batch is produced from one field on Islay. (This bourbon cask matured ‘Laddie’ has been so successful that it had sold out worldwide very quickly.) I then unleashed my plan of stealing Mark’s act, condensing it down to no more than 2 minutes and adding some embellishments of my own. Highlights include beginning with ’50/50/50’, ‘Happy days’ and ‘Cask is King’, continuing with ‘Imperial’, ‘Caperdonich’ and ‘Macallan’, before ‘I was in a bar in Japan’, ‘licking a fencepost’ and ending with ‘Duncan Taylor promotes responsible drinking (laugh up sleeve)’.
Arran 12 year old cask strength, at 54.1%abv, was taken from first and second fill sherry casks and was 1 of 12,000 bottles released. I found it particularly light and sweet and a comment of ‘Marzipan’ from one of the audience was a very good call. Electing to keep the comedy going, I condensed my own act down to a couple of minutes and talked about myself as if I wasn’t in the room, something the crowd found surreal.

Keeping the sherry theme going, Aberlour A’Bunadh Batch 42, at 60.3%abv, led me to admit that most of the audience knew more about this particular release than I did though I noted that I hadn’t been the biggest fan in the past, my taste buds had grown used to the flavours present. I recommended to the audience members who found this too heavy is to take one measure of Aberlour 12 and add one measure of A’Bunadh to give Aberlour A’Brucie, since A’Bunadh does not really improve with water. Anyone who had not tried the combination of ‘Maya Gold’ chocolate with A’Bunadh and wanted to was told to get their own as we weren’t at school and I didn’t have to bring enough for everyone.

I ended with the mystery Islay malt Finlaggan, at 58%abv, and invited the audience to guess which distillery it came from. Finlaggan offers a big peat punch at cask strength for little money and I revealed that my own question about the distillery had received the response ‘Sod off and mind your own business, Baldy.’ I then asked the unprecedented question “Does anyone think this is mingin’ and, if they do, can I finish it for you?” Unfortunately, there were no takers so I recorded one word (Blast!) in my notes and bade the audience farewell. I was then surprised to learn that the 15 minutes I thought I had been on for had, in fact, been 35 actual minutes for everyone else, such was the rush of adrenaline I experienced.

Slightly rattled by my stealing his act, Mark began with the Benromach Organic Special Edition, at 43%abv, to illustrate his theme of ‘Cask is King’. Matured in virgin oak, this edition has 14ppm of peat and was rich, sweet, slightly smoky and virtually identical to previous releases of the ‘Organic’ though, unusually for Benromach, the peat didn’t really compliment the rest of the flavours.

Warmed up now, Mark treated us to a story of a cask of Teaninich he described as ‘bowf’. (Bowf is a scientific, technical term in frequent use in Scotland). His description of the taste was unrepeatable in these pages and this whisky had been re-racked into port, sherry, rum, ale and port again, still ending up as ‘bowfin’, despite these Herculean efforts.

Having spent his spare time mastering ‘PowerPoint’ presentations, Mark showed a diagram that
demonstrated the influence of the cask on whisky as opposed to ‘other stuff’ as we moved on the widely available Auchentoshan ‘Three Wood’ that starts maturation in bourbon casks before being transferred to Oloroso sherry casks for a year and then Pedro Ximenez (PX) casks for another year. Still a smooth and velvety dram, Mark confessed that he had toyed with choosing the Valinch before going with this. He and I then speculated what a ‘Valinch three wood’ cask strength release might taste like.

We tasted Springbank ‘Rundlets and Kilderkins’, at 49.4%abv and which was christened ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ by Mark. A rundlet is a 65 litre cask and a kilderkin is 85 litres and maturation in these smaller casks had given the whisky far more flavour than its 10 year official age would indicate, indeed, expert Frank McHardy thinks it tastes between 5 and 7 years older than that, albeit at a cost of high evaporation from the cask at around 7%. This was, perhaps the find of the contest and possibly even the entire festival and similar releases are planned for Hazelburn and Longrow. (Also, Mark is hopeful of making a ‘Japanese Oak’ finish with Hazelburn whisky as he finds that such oak adds a tremendous amount of flavour.)

Drawing on his seemly inexhaustible well of incredible stories, Mark told us of an escapade in the Highlander Inn with a pint of Lagavulin that he hadn’t managed to finish at 7:30 am as we tasted the widely available and still dependable Laphroaig ‘Quarter Cask’, at 48%abv. The QC spends between 5 and 7 years in ex-bourbon casks before 7 months in the quarter cask which is 125 litres in volume and gives approximately 60% more spirit to wood interaction.

Finally, came ‘faking it’ in the form of Cu Dubh, distilled at the Speyside distillery in Kingussie and released by a Danish company to replace Diageo’s Loch Dhu release of the mid 90s. Loch Dhu failed completely but gained a cult following, just as this has done, judging by the glowing tributes that Mark had found in his research. (Mark remembers passing a thimble of the Loch Dhu round 4 people and still having some left.) Cu Dubh translates to ‘Black Dog’ and it is not only dastardly but Muttley also.

Supposedly, Loch Dhu’s colour came from a ‘unique charring process’ but was, in fact, the result of spirit caramel. In this regard, Mark viewed the Cu Dubh as far more honest as it admits that the colour is from the vast addition of some 714ppm of caramel. As such, it tasted of dodgy Ribena and Sodastream syrup. It was so disgusting, I couldn’t finish it and so ended an 11-year, 23 festival unbeaten streak that began when Pittyvaich distillery still stood and I still had hair, of being able to finish every whisky.

After that, it was time for a straight show of hands for the winner and I was conclusively defeated though Mark put his hand up for me to win. However, despite this, we were both winners having entertained the audience so thoroughly and having far surpassed our previous efforts.

Glendronach distillery

Saturday morning brought a bus tour to Glendronach with Charlie again being our driver and Hannah being our guide for the tour, which has been partially detailed in the Autumn 2009 and 2010 reports.

15% of malting is carried out on site with the rest from Portgarden on the Moray coast. Walking round, Hannah recounted how the distillery used to use peated malt before the advent of the railways meant that coal was used instead.

After that, the great Alan McConnochie took us through the warehouse, telling us that some countries, such as Taiwan and Belgium like Glendronach fully matured in bourbon casks, and with good reason, in this writer’s view. A 2009 cask sample was drawn and, despite not being legally whisky, it showed great promise and a sweet, fruity taste. Another sample from a 650 litre Port pipe contained whisky filled into a bourbon cask in 1995 before it’s most recent year being spent in the port wood. Finding it dry, Alan reckoned it will spend some 6 further months in there before bottling. Alan also noted that there are about 40,000 casks on site and that warehouse workers all apparently have the memory of Robocop. Finally, a sample from a 1972 Oloroso cask was velvety in texture and to taste of chocolate orange.

In the visitor’s centre, we had a lovely 2002 bourbon cask sample that tasted of vanilla and light, golden honey while some 2010 spirit produced from malt at 38ppm phenol had both smoke and bubblegum notes.

The 14 year old ‘Virgin Oak Finish’ was one that Alan didn’t think would work but did so beautifully, with sweet light honey as well as both pineapple and citrus notes and Pat Lunn viewed it as a summer whisky.

Alan likes to bottle older whiskies at higher strength and the 21 year old ‘Parliament’, named after the collective noun for rooks, is 48%abv. Having begun maturation in bourbon casks, it was re-racked into both Oloroso and PX casks that gave it coffee aromas and is recommended to any nosing experts reading. This dram is possibly the last word in luxury, tasting of syrup, treacle, hazelnuts, trifle and chocolate.

An inspired Alan was in full flow by this time as he had warmed up the 1972 sample he had taken earlier and found both winter fruits and strong berries. His view is that every distillery has a year and Glendronach’s is 1972 though he didn’t disagree with my view that 1993 was also the distillery’s year as vintage releases from that year are particularly to my taste.
After Alan read a little poem of his and we nosed and tasted a 1968 sample that had spent its last 15 years in a sherry cask, Stephen Lunn paid eloquent tribute to him. Next year, Alan will have been in the industry for 40 years but, on reflection, my suggestion that he celebrate with Scotch was just a bit daft.

Before departing, I add that Glendronach launched 8 year old ‘Octarine’, at 46%abv at the same time as the ‘Parliament’ and no home should be without its light, sweet, fruity and silky tastes.


A packed house for Glenglassaugh with Susan Colville

The Masonic Hall was crammed to the rafters, and not with tree frogs either, for Susan Colville who had jumped ship to Glenglassaugh distillery and was presenting some of their very first legal whisky since reopening in 2008 as well as other single casks from before the distillery’s closure in 1986.

Glenglassaugh’s history is covered in the Spring 2011 report and, since then, a visitor’s centre has been put in place and tours are available by appointment. Closed between 1907 and 1960, an effectively new distillery was built that year and Susan describes the architect as being ‘happy at work’. The distillery character, according to Susan, was heavy, oily, sweet and citric and, therefore, not ideal for a component of owners Edrington’s blends such as Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark.

Revival, at 46%abv, is bottled on site, like all releases, and contains 2008 whisky matured in refill bourbon, refill sherry and red wine casks. Interesting as a work in progress, I found it to be light, youthful and with a winy taste. The ‘Revival’ will be available for 2 years and will be replaced by a 5 year old expression and, following that, an 8 year old.
Glenglassaugh (GG), as yet, has not got what is known as a house style as opposed to, say, Macallan distillery and this allows the distillery freedom to experiment with small batches.
A preview sample followed of the forthcoming ‘Evolution’ bottling that will consist of 6000 bottles taken from casks that held George Dickel Tennessee whiskey and will be at 59.6%abv. Even at this young age, the whisky demonstrated a magnetic affinity for such casks and, presumably, would do so with bourbon casks also. I found this to be creamy with vanilla and honey notes and decided to tell Susan that, despite the whisky being called ‘Evolution’, I wasn’t going to talk for 45 minutes about wildlife – her face was an incredible combination of relief, surprise and perplexity at this news.
The GG 26 year old, at 46%abv, contains some 29 year old whisky due to limited stock and has been taken from refill sherry casks. Susan believes it to be clean, fresh and vibrant. Very well rounded and a very good yardstick for the distillery. I found it to be a light, elegant dram. Interestingly, of GG’s limited stock, 3 of the casks will turn 50 years old in 2013.

A 1978 single cask from the ‘Massandra collection’, at 44.8%abv, had been finished in Madeira wood. Massandra is a Ukrainian winery that, in the past, was prized by the Czars. 24 casks were purchased with 5 styles available, including sherry and ruby port. Casks that had been considered tired were given an 18 month reviving and the remainder filled with young GG spirit. This bottling had sweet berry flavours and Susan gets tropical fruit from it. Apparently, it would not have been bottled before the finish was applied.

At this point, Susan asked if there were any questions and my response of ‘not any sensible ones’ was probably as good as she was going to get.

The final pick was a 1976 vintage, at 49.6%abv, taken from a first fill sherry cask was one of the ‘Chosen Few’ range and was picked by Ronnie Routledge. There are 14 distillery staff and each one will be able to pick one of these for bottling. Susan thinks that GG’s character suits refill sherry casks and this one had all the classic Christmas cake flavours that one associates with such casks.

Aberlour Founder’s Tour

On Sunday afternoon, it was time to take the Founder’s Tour at Aberlour distillery with the lovely Jennie to guide us. Work was begun at Aberlour in 1879 by founder James Fleming, a tremendous local benefactor after whom, the distillery’s Fleming Rooms are named. Indeed, the rooms are built on the site of the original maltings and it was there that we had some of the 12 year old, at 43%abv. This bottling is smooth, creamy and very easy-going and is vatted from 80% bourbon casks and 20% sherry casks.
The stern-looking Mister Fleming was not physically strong enough to become a farmer and, instead, became a grain merchant and then, later, a bank manager. Fleming also took out a lease on nearby Dailuaine distillery and gained valuable experience that way. Aberlour was sold to Robert Thorn and son in 1892 but Fleming was kept on for 3 more years until his passing in 1895 when money was left to the village and paid for a bridge over the river Spey that is still in use to this day. The distillery changed hands periodically until 1974 when current owners Pernod (Chivas) took over. (One previous owner released a ‘Dimpled’ bottling that resembles another blended whisky produced by the competition.)
 As we walked round, Jennie told us that Aberlour is the seventh best selling malt in the world and the number one in France. It produces 3.5 million litres per year and is in ‘24/7’ production.
Pausing to look at historical photos, we found a shot of 1921 distillery workers and discovered that dogs were used as rat-catchers in those days, as opposed to the legendary cat at Glenturret distillery.

12 tons of barley is used per mash and there are four stills. Technicians are given training at nearby sister distillery Glentauchers. Spirit is tankered and filled in Keith and there are some 25,000 casks on site as opposed to 1,500,000 at Mulben and 500,000 at Keith.

An insightful tutored nosing of the spirit was given, making the difference between the head, heart and tails of the spirit became apparent. Indeed, the ‘head’ can kill, blind or make mad the incautious drinker, something that was a definite hazard for illicit distillers in days of yore.

We were given 4 chocolates to go with our 4 drams, the first being a sample of new make that revealed cereal upon a drop of water. Norwegian expert Geir Haug fondly describes the 18 year old, at 43%abv, as ‘the A’Bunadh all grown up’. Taken from 20% bourbon casks and 80% sherry casks, it had apricots and apples on the nose and a classy rich, sweet and fruity taste followed by a long, warm and spicy finish.

The first of two distillery exclusives was a 16 year old bourbon cask that visitors are allowed to fill their own from. With banana foam sweets on the nose and taste and delicate sweet vanilla, Jennie accurately describes this as a summer whisky so it’s best consumed in a country that occasionally has a summer.

By contrast, the 16 year old Oloroso sherry-matured ‘fill your own’ dram is best described as ‘A’Bunadh goes to the gym’ and the gym had clearly worked very well as it had more refinement than its younger alter ego and had the usual classic sherry flavours such as fruitcake, toffee and more.

A bonus dram came from a 2006 cask that was particularly rich and full flavoured and only revealed its youthfulness at the very end, perhaps indicating that it will be used in an upcoming ‘A’Bunadh’ batch.

Adelphi Tasting with Antonia Bruce

Adelphi’s Antonia Bruce presented 1 official bottling (Tamdhu) and some samples of upcoming releases that may be bottled by the time of publication. A 1992 Longmorn, at 55.1%abv, had some rich bourbon on the nose with more bourbon on the taste plus malt, vanilla, honey and nuts. Antonia thinks this is much sweeter and not as drying as the sister cask reviewed in Spring 2010.

The latest news on the Adelphi distillery in Ardnamurchan is that the first hole has been dug and flint stone was found. It is still hoped that production will begin in the autumn of 2013.

1995 Tamdhu, at 58.8%abv, was taken from a refill sherry butt and Antonia views it as an aperitif. A drop of water revealed butterscotch, caramel and toffee sauce notes on the nose and taste with the finish being dry, featuring some bitter coffee and dark chocolate flavours. A 1997 Macallan, at 51.6%abv, had been matured in a refill sherry cask and water made it particularly creamy. Antonia found some cherry liqueur notes while an audience member found fruit jelly. The nose was also creamy, rich, fruity and chocolaty while the finish was very long and spicy with some stewed fruits.

A 1965 Lochside ‘single blend’, at 54.6%abv, was from a sister cask to Autumn 2011’s release and entered the realm of legend with the greatest of ease. This had retained its alcoholic strength by the grain present that dominated the nose. The taste was surprisingly youthful and very fruity though the grain emerged later. Fruit trifle and wedding cake followed in a magnificent finish. Lochside, the long closed Montrose distillery, had a very pure water supply and had the same owner as Ben Nevis distillery who had also filled single blends of 50 percent malt and grain into casks.

Finally, a 2000 Bowmore, at 56.1%abv, from a sherry cask had toffee, smoke and Murray mint aromas with a gently smoky tasted that hinted of ham and the subtle finish was also lightly smoky and sherry sweet.

Scottish Classical Music with Paul Anderson and Shona Donaldson

Making their festival debut were Aberdeenshire’s Paul Anderson and Shona Donaldson. Paul and Shona both play the fiddle and Shona sings a number of traditional songs about Aberdeenshire. Many of the tunes played by Paul and Shona were written by James Scott Skinner who was the first Scot to record music and who, at the age of 12, played for Queen Victoria. Such was his fame that some 40,000 people lined the streets of Aberdeen for his funeral. Deeside’s Peter Milne composed other tunes played and Paul drew attention to the fact that Deeside was a notoriously wild area known for illicit distilling in previous centuries. Historic feuds between the Gordon and Forbes families also provided the source material for part of the evening’s music and Paul also played a Pibroch that he had himself wrote.

At strategic points in the evening, Shona took centre stage and sang songs about ‘Noble Huntly’, the ‘Burn of Auchindoon’ and ‘Adieu to Bogieside’ and a fine evening was had by all and the reader is recommended that like the writer, they should not miss this event should Paul and Shona appear in Dufftown again.

(Clips from Paul and Shona’s performance are available on both Facebook and www.youtube.com.)

Cragganmore Distillery Tour

Cragganmore distillery, is one of 17 Speyside distilleries owned by the mighty Diageo and Catriona, our guide, told us that the maltings at highland distillery Glen Ord provides both peated and unpeated malt.
John Smith, who had been at Glenlivet, Macallan and Glenfarclas distilleries and who knew exactly what he wanted to achieve, established Cragganmore in 1869. It uses 6.8 tons of barley are per mash and the water source is in the nearby Cragganmore hills. Currently in ‘24/7’ production, the washbacks are made from Scottish larch and Douglas fir wood and worm tubs are used in distillation. The 4 stills are fairly squat and two have a ‘sawn-off’ look about them. Up to 90% of the 2 million litres per year production is used for blending with some 5000 casks being held at the distillery.

A tanker comes twice per week and filling takes place in the lowlands with casks being sent to other Diageo sites across Scotland. Unusually, most of Cragganmore is filled into sherry casks though the single malt is filled into bourbon casks that Diageo reckon gives the single malt its character.

Heading to the club house that used to be the cooperage, we tasted the standard 12 year old version that was light, smooth, fresh and floral though without the trademark light smoke that used to be present. A 1997 Distiller’s edition had spent some months in Port Pipes that gave it a tremendous fruity flavour as well as some cake icing that would make it, in this writer’s view, a tremendous session whisky.

Finally, we tasted the 21 year old limited release, at 56%abv that had been matured in refill bourbon casks and was one of 6000 bottles. The nose had both vanilla and honey and it had a creamy and banana-sweet taste with some light smoke appearing at the very long finish.
(The reader who can obtain a bottle of this is to be congratulated and is invited to compare it with the Sherry matured WSD bottling reviewed earlier).

Scottish Liqueur Centre

Deserving of a much wider audience is the Scottish Liqueur Centre, just outside Perth, and Peter Mackay presented a strong case for such a belief. The Mackay and Morrison families who have lengthy connections with the whisky industry and, in particular, Bowmore distillery own the centre and, despite being relatively new to whisky, Peter reckons he can pick out Ben Nevis – our first dram. This 1996 Carn Mor release was at 46%abv, standard strength for the range. Spice, cinnamon, ginger and syrup notes were present and the finish was particularly long. It is also worth noting that this proved exceptionally popular with the audience, most of whom are not fans of the distillery bottling.

Peter asked for some audience input and was fortuitously rewarded by my noting that a 1996 Carn Mor Speyside, also from a refill sherry butt, had butter and toffee sauce on the nose and tasted like sticky toffee pudding throughout. The Speyside distillery had been sold recently to Harvey’s of Hereford and will provide whisky for the far eastern market.

Peter told us that, historically, sherry casks had often ended up in Perth and, not coincidentally, Perth is the home of many popular blended whiskies. 1984 ‘Celebration of the Cask’ (CotC) Benrinnes, at 57.6%abv, had come from a sherry puncheon that Peter reckoned might have contained Fino. The nose had vanilla, cut grass and lemon and the same again on the taste while the finish was tremendously long, warm and spicy.

By contrast, 1983 CotC Dailuaine, at 49.9%abv, came from a bourbon cask and had some lemon meringue on the nose and vanilla, sponge cake and buttered toast flavours.

Those present were amongst the first ever to taste the 9 year old Carn Mor Bowmore that had been finished, for two months, in a PX cask that Peter’s father had journeyed to Spain to collect and he also told us of a dedicated distillery worker that had the distillery tattooed on his arm. At the start of the session, this had smelled like classic Bowmore with toffee and mints but an hour’s breathing had made it resemble fellow Islay malt Caol Ila with smoked fish notes and a salty, medicinal finish that Mark Watt thought resembled 1960’s Bowmore. Interestingly, Peter reckons that Bowmore put him through school.

A new dawn for Cadenhead’s with Mark Watt

Now with Cadenhead’s was Dufftown’s strongest and most modest man Mark Watt, who, it turns out, had been carrying an entire company on his own for the past 5 years without telling anyone.

Mark presented a series of preview samples for which bottling was by no means imminent though it was still a privilege to taste them, all the same. Mark has been charged with creating a new range for the company and this range will sell outside the United Kingdom.
Mark invited us to comment on whether we thought the samples should be bottled at 46% or at cask strength and we began with a light, fresh and grassy 1996 Glengoyne that took water and offered some citrus notes on addition. Mark also told us the story of presenting someone with a business card to be told that his company ‘didn’t exist’, something that baffled him. Also baffling was Mark’s warning to ‘watch what you’re stealing from the Internet’ as he showed a picture of an oil rig that was supposed to be a picture of Invergordon grain distillery. Our stunning 1991 vintage sample had come from a refill sherry cask. Chewy and oily with treacle toffee and many other flavours and it sparked a discussion between Mark and Stephen Lunn about maturation of grain spirit that drew the observation from Mark that grain whisky is rarely filled into an active cask, hence it often takes decades before it becomes great whisky.

There followed a potted history of William Cadenhead’s and Mark said it made a change for him to know who the founder of the company was, while this writer asked if it was also a change to work for a company whose distilleries actually exist. Robert Duthie succeeded William Cadenhead in 1904 and did a sterling job for the company before tragically meeting his end under a tram in Aberdeen in 1931, something that would never have happened had he lived in Edinburgh. (The ‘Duthie’s’ range of whiskies will soon be ended, Mark also told us). A series of owners followed until the early 1970’s when current owners J and A Mitchell took over, having owned Springbank distillery since 1828 and who also own Glengyle distillery.
A 1976 Banff was ‘proper old school whisky’ according to Mark. With rich honey and golden syrup tastes, this marvelously sweet dram is apparently typical of the whisky produced by the long gone and historically flammable distillery. Indeed, it had caught fire many times before finally closing in 1983 and the remains were demolished by another fire in 1991. Banff was bombed during the second world war and the casks were smashed and thrown into the local water supply, getting the cows so drunk that they couldn’t stand up and milking them later yielded the recipe for Bailey’s. Annoyingly, the firemen who extinguished the fire were prosecuted by the exciseman for drinking some of the maturing spirit.

A 1977 Convalmore was spicy but became more honey-sweet with water while a 1992 Mortlach, from a sherry cask, was far lighter that the age would suggest with Mark describing it as ‘Diet Mortlach’. Water was most definitely not needed here and the consensus was that is should be released at cask strength.

A 1977 Caperdonich was not quite Mark’s favourite from the distillery but was still charming with WSD’s Vicky describing it as tasting of ‘fresh apples’ though water made it more orangey. Mark’s beloved Caperdonich is now gone but its stills have been sold to the ‘Belgian Owl Distillery’ in ‘Belgiumland’ who will begin production in 2013 and who offered Mark the chance to buy a cask at an eye-watering price.

We ended with a 1991 vatting of Caol Ila and Bowmore that had Mark recounting the book ‘Whisky Miscellany’ by Ian Sillen who was not aided by Diageo in the writing of the book, leading him to describe the company as ‘owning Gleneagles Hotel and some distilleries’.

The drams party closed the festival with Mike donning his helmet and vest to announce that Johnnie Walker’s Platinum had convincingly won the ‘blind blends’ competition ahead of 5 other blends.

With that, I’d like to thank everyone involved in organizing and running the festival and, in particular, Mike Lord and his wife Val, Steve Oliver, Charlie the bus driver, Vicky, Barry and Kirsten at the Whisky Shop, to Claire for the proofreading, to Rene, Glo and everyone involved with the ‘Mates of the Museum’ plus Hiroyuki and Haakon for the photographs.

I’m off to read ‘Dolphins in your Rhododendrons’ by Hawaii Hans Van Treeroot, and I’ll see you again at the spring festival when I’ll no longer be perplexed by marine horticulture.