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.

Saturday, 30 November 2013


Do visit Caol Ila of you get to Islay... vist for the sheer size of the place, now able to produce 6,5 million liters of spirit a year. Its been the largest distillery on Islay for years and now its even bigger! Located just beside the village and ferry berthing of Port Askaig it enjoys pretty much the same view as Bunnahabhain a little further north. That said, the Bunnahabhain site is much more tranquil, as I've also mentioned in other posts. Oh, also if visiting, remember that Caol Ila is a Diageo site, so no pictures inside of the production areas.

Caol Ila is also the whisky to go for if you want something similar in style to Port Ellen and not want to pay for what equals a booster rocket for a Space Shuttle. Especially older Caol Ila like the one I'm about to review, are similar to similar aged Port Ellens in style.

That's the peated Cal Ilas covered - do also try the unpeated versions!! well, relatively unpeated that is. The style is called 'Caol Ila Highland' but up until the recent 14yo release there has still been a noticeable peat influence in them... but they're fun to try for sure :-)

Now onto the review...

Old fashioned cask scale outside Caol Ila, October 8th 2008 © The Malt Desk 
Caol Ila 1982 29yo (14.12.1982/05.12.2012) 57,1%, Hogshead#6485, 263 bottles, Signatory

Colour is full straw

Mellow peat, oak, coastal (brine and seafront), nutmeg, some fruit and plastic ropes. Getting slightly medicinal with time

Smoky, salt water, citrus, tarry, grilled shellfish and a mineral notes as in warm rocks cut by a diamond blade and salted peanuts

A very nice older Caol Ila for sure! ... and certainly on par with some of the overpriced Port Ellens you can find out there.


Wednesday, 27 November 2013


I've said almost all what can be said about Bunnahabhain at this point, so I'll keep my mouth shut for now - I don't even have a rant for you tonight ;-) ... well, I'll kepp it almost shut - I do have a review for you :-) and a picture that relates to another post of mine about the things that can affect the distillation process. See picture description...

Inside a Bunnahabhain still - May 6th 2011 © The Malt Desk
Bunnahabhain 1980 32yo (28.03.1980/05.12.2012) 51,4%, Refill sherry butt#4390, 478 bottles, Signatory

Colour is straw

Initially a hint of sulphur that goes away after a short while (that, or my nose just gets used to it). Then malt (pot ale), citrus, a gingery note and herbal note. Also quite some musty bung cloth in there

Grilled (green) veggies (mostly leek and green bell pepper) and surprisingly a more than notiable hint of peat in there too. Goes on with a lovely malty sweetness and soft fruit and melon.

Not the greatest of old Bunnahabhains, but still good...


Saturday, 23 November 2013


Phew, lots of words have been expressed about Highland Park since they started with the storytelling from old Norse mythology and Orkney sagas. Honestly, I think its pretty cool cause I like stuff like that, but I don't like paying for it in my whisky. I just want good whisky!

I like like Highland Park very much and I still have very fond memories of going to the Orkneys and I will definitely be going again sometime. Stunning scenery and historical sites... oh, and Highland Park - even though they need to cater some more for us anoraks and not just the businessman passing through the airport buying some expensive whisky as he passes to catch his next flight!

That said, I really like the Valhalla Collection, but I could do without the Longship packaging. It just makes the whole thing about £15/$30/€20 more expensive... as if whisky isn't getting expensive enough :O

The Stones of Stenness, just a short distance from the Ring of Brodgar, August 5th 2009 © The Malt Desk
Highland Park 1990 (13.12.1990/07.02.2013) 22yo, 51,9%, sherry butt#15702, 405 bottles, Signatory

Colour is light amber

Ohh, lovely Highland Park profile... Very honeyed and floral, fried/grilled meats, citrus (oranges) and malt. In the background some very faint notes of yeast.

Very light arrival, much lighter than expected. Starting in crisp barley to the breaking point, very citrussy, apples even, honey again... A malty middle with salt and peat and some oaky peppery finish

A lighter Highland Park than expected, especially on the sherry, but it works well even if the notes seem a bit simple

Certainly a Cask Strength rival to the official 21yo...


Thursday, 21 November 2013


This spring, during the Spirit of Speyside Festival, Mark Watt, now with Cadenhead, introduced those of us at his tasting, to the new Cadenhead Small Batch series.

The Small Batch series is made up from 1 cask to a vatting of a few casks and to make them more recognisable, its put in 70cl (small) clear dumpy bottles.... and we had an amazing lineup for that tasting - all were still cask samples at the time:

  • Craigellachie 1994 18yo
  • Cameronbridge 1989 24yo
  • Cadenhead Creations Batch 1
  • Glenlivet-Minmore 1970 43yo
  • Bowmore 1998
  • Highland Park 1988 25yo
Later, in the summer when these were bottled, I ended up with 2 x Highland Park 1988 25yo (a 2 cask bottling, btw) and 1 bottle of the Glenlivet-Minmore 1970 43yo (single cask) - Stellar stuff!! ...as were the Craigellachie for that matter :-)

Now, as I mentioned in my first Caperdonich review here on the blog, the grounds where Caperdonich Distillery used to be, now holds the expanded business of the Forsyth's Coppersmiths... and since I don't have a picture in my archives of Caperdonich, I'll bore you with a picture from Forsyths instead. When I visited in 2012 they were putting together a wash still for Irish Distillers in Middleton, Ireland - and a big one it was. It was on beams, so not to damage it but still, its a big one! Below picture is from next to the still... and I'm 6'4'' !! (193cm)

But back to today's review of the Caperdonich 1977, a bottling also from the small batch series. When I bought this, for me, it was clearly a bottle to keep... but I was also tempted to use at a recent tasting, so I caved in and did that, because I'm such a nice guy! ;-) and I know Mark Watt has a soft spot for Caperdonich, so I must admit I was expecting something extra special here.

Bottom half of a wash still going to Irish Distillers - its BIG, May 5th 2012 © The Malt Desk
Caperdonich 1977 35yo, 50,2%, Ex-sherry butt, 384 bottles, Cadenhead Small Batch

Colour is nutty brown

Mid-aged rum and raisin, coffee, sweet sherry, some chocolate and dried fruits and mint. This could be extra spicy After Eights!

Lovely clean sherry, though a tad bitter at first. Then oranges, dark fruits, mint again, honey and cherry liqueur. Finished on more dark and drying chocolate.

I'm a sucker for this style of whisky - a real autumn warmer and truly a little stunner and certainly one for you out there with a sweet tooth

You know how to pick them, Mark - Good job!


Tuesday, 19 November 2013


Tonight, I just read that the next Macallan Easter Elchies House bottling was released today. A single cask 17 years of age and at cask strength of 55,3% abv. A 170 bottles was released from cask#26 of where a total 340 bottles were drawn. The remaining bottles go on sale in December... Price £185 and sold only at the distillery visitors centre. Besides the price, the even more crazy part is that people had been lining up since 5am Sunday morning to get their hands on this.

The Macallan Easter Elchies bottling Nov 2013 - thanks to Shaun King for letting me use the picuture

Is this what whisky has become? a thing to line up for at crazy hours in the morning to make some money? if it is, its just sad, sad, sad... I know these Easter Elchies bottlings are quite sought after, but this is getting down right ridiculous. Have some people become so far stretched economically that they are willing to line up and freeze for several hours for a chance to double their money? There were even stories of people driving up to Speyside from Edinburgh to get a bottle!!

I'm betting close to NONE of these bottles will ever be opened. Whisky investing and hoarding like this is, IMO, an insult to the guys that make the whisky and its becoming a significant dark side of the whisky market these days.

I wonder when the whisky bubble will burst? Is it when the 'Tiger'-economies in the Far East, especially China slows down? or Russia slows? Brazil maybe? But if we take a look at the investments being made by the whisky industry now and their plans for coming years, it doesn't seem that they're worried about a slow down.

Now, I'm certainly no market strategist, but when making investments of billions of UK £, banks and shareholders will certainly be wanting them back along with a big fat return. It's a business and this is how we've chosen to live (most of us, anyway)... but there is a long way from lining up at 5am in the morning to get a single bottle to provide the worlds population with drinks (as it's not only whisky many of these companies are selling). Someone has placed alot of trust in demographic and marketing experts to make sure their capacity will still make up for demand. And even if the bubble should burst and you are down to maintaining or even losing existing customers and not getting new ones, there's only us customers to pay for those investments and current demand, resulting in higher prices for us.

I'll not bore you much longer with this, but I am, as I've mentioned in other posts before, aware that distilleries are businesses and not philanthropy or pet project of a crazed billionaire - it's about cool cash... I just hope cool cash doesn't blur the picture too much for either the people in the line to get an Easter Elchies bottling or the people in the corporate board rooms.

Anyway, I know you're here for the whisky so let me review another Macallan for you - not the Easter Elchies one (though I would like to that that ;-) )

Easter Elchies House at Macallan - June 13th 2013 © The Malt Desk
Macallan 1997 14yo 51,6%, Sherry hogshead#1046, 216 bottles, Adelphi

Colour is mahogany

Chocolate, nutmeg, hint of oriental spices and orange peel, prunes and burnt sugar

Creamy/Oily on arrival, a streak of sulphur (matches), amaretto, strong coffee, orange infused chocolates and polished leather. Sadly it gets a tad too bitter and drying for me on the finish

I was looking forward to this one as I counted on a good pick from Adelphi and with that a trip down memory lane to the likes of the Cask Strength Macallan from a few years back. Sadly it never got much further than out the driveway and certainly not down memory lane. Guess my expectations was too high :-/


Sunday, 17 November 2013


Time flies... and we've passed 1 week since my last review - oh, well... Here comes the next one...

Tucked away in Speyside, about half a mile off the A95 lies Cragganmore. It's not very well signed and you can miss it in a hearbeat when heading for the usual distillery 'hub' of Aberlour/Craigellachie/Dufftown - but do swing by... it's a nice distillery and even though its standard bottlings are riddled with the evils (E150 Caramel and chill filtration) it makes for a nice starter dram if you need to buy a gift for a newbie whisky drinker.

This whisky I'm about to review is not for a newbie, though... actually I'd say this is quite a challenging dram! and certainly, besides being from a bourbon cask, was somewhat of a surprise for me... but thats what indie bottlings are all about... bottling casks that do not always taste like a distilleries house style.

Oh, and sorry... I've digging holes in my digital archives for a proper picture from Cragganmore for this review, but all I found was bad ones - so you'll have to do without for this review.

Cragganmore 1984 26yo 58,2%, refill ex-bourbon cask#1489, 200 bottles, Adelphi

Colour is straw

Waxy, yeast and fresh baking, cut grass left to dry in the sun (hay), citrus and sour apples and a dairy note.

Malty, bitter and sour (grape fruits) and spices. Water calms the whole thing down a bit an fruits turn to the boiled kind some honey too. Baked apple in there? Still carries a bit of that sour through to the finish which doesn't really to it for me with this one...

This is a strange one, indeed and certainly not the normal Cragganmore house style. It also doesn't taste like a 26yo. Tried blind I wouldn't say this was older than maybe 15 years. Quite a demanding dram, IMO


Saturday, 9 November 2013


This is the first Tamdhu I'll be reviewing here on The Malt Desk... and to be honest its not a malt, I've had that many expressions of over the years, though summed up its still more than just a few.

Tamdhu has been owned by Ian McLeod Distillers (IMD) since 2011 and, as with Adelphi, is one of those smaller indie companies that has gone out and bought themselves a distillery, though IMD already owned a distillery, Glengoyne Distillery, some 10 miles north of Glasgow before buying Tamdhu.

Tamdhu was previously owned by The Edrington Group (Highland Park, Macallan, Glenturret) and was mothballed back in 2009 until IMD restarted production in 2012. The official opening, though, was delayed until The Spirit of Speyside Festival in May 2013 where a 10yo bottling from 1st and refill sherry casks also was released.... maybe I'll get to review that later.

The distillery is a relatively large operation and a place I've been wanting to see for some time and the Speyside Festival 2013 provided me with just that opportunity.

The Tamdhu I'll be reviewing is from another regime, though, going back to 1984 - and from an ex-bourbon cask.

Tamdhu stillhouse, May 6th 2013 © The Malt Desk
Tamdhu 1984 26yo, 48,8%, refill ex-bourbon cask#2836, 269 bottles, Adelphi

Colour is full straw

Very fresh after spending 26 years in the cask, apple, citrus (oranges), hint of ginger and grass, vanilla. Gets even more fizzy and fresh with water.

Very malty arrival, sweet green apples, spices, nipping oak, honey, water brings out peppery spices, oily and that fresh grass again and plain white fruit.

This is a good one - I quite like it for its fruity freshness, though I think it might come across as simple to some...


Thursday, 7 November 2013


Next, I'll be doing a review of a few Adelphi bottlings. For this first one, we head to Campbeltown and Springbank and after that I'll be moving north east to Speyside for the next ones...

I'm not going to dwell long on Springbank itself in this review, but instead I'll focus a bit on building of Adelphi's new distillery on the remote Ardnamurchan Peninsula. As I mentioned in this post, their plan were, to begin with, to be distilling in the Autumn of 2013, but this has now been pushed forward to first quarter of 2014. The building and installation of equipment is going along nicely now and still should arrive the week starting with 11th November.

You can follow the progress, pictures included, on the Adelphi Distillery Ltd Facebook page.

The review below is of a whisky that carries some sulphury notes, but also one that, IMO of course, benefits from having this edge... more on my takes on sulphur here.

The 3 stills at Springbank, one wash (left) and 2 spirit stills, May 10th 2011 © The Malt Desk 

Springbank 1996 16yo, 53,9%, cask#72, 220 bottles, Adelphi

Colour is gold

Sweet, the dirty - noth which I expect comes from a fino sherry cask, though this is not stated on the bottle. Some vegitative sulphury notes comes off this one as well as some winey/yeasty notes - another thing thats making me suspect this being a fino cask, but this adds to the experience here. Then you get the Springbank dirtyness instead, (olive?) oil, some hints of peat and brine accompagnied by overripe banana and mango and a dash of motor oil as well.

A lot more agressive on the palate, this one. Again sweet and quite dirty, getting really brackish at some point. A strange combination of heavy oils, peat, fruit, ash, white wine/heavy cider along with some coconut and saltiness.

I suspect this whisky might put off some people and its fun that I like this one, as I'm normally very sensitive to sulphury notes.... but this one has it in the right amounts. Good whisky!!


Tuesday, 5 November 2013


Many fans of sherry matured whisky have shifted favourite distillery these past 3-4 years. Mainly to the drop in quality and/or style change with their regular sherry whisky distillery.
What I hear is a hit these days are several expressions of Glenfarclas, incl the much appreciated '105', Aberlour A'bunadh... and, of course, the many expressions of Glendronach! The NAS Cask Strength, the 15 and the single casks expressions being the most sought after...

I, myself, is also a Glendronach devotee, though I stick to the single cask expressions and the BYOs from the distillery. All have been good, except one which was badly sulphured/rubber style to the point of undrinkable... a 1996-bottling cask#197... I just can't get it across my lips when its this bad. Guess they're allowed a misfire sometime :-) but some people love that style! :-O

But back to good Glendronach. Now and again I come across an indie bottling and I, of course, rush right in to try it. Some have even been from ex-bourbon casks and have been quite good and I've also tried a couple of ex-bourbon cask expressions straight from the cask at the distillery and they have also been crackers! So, please, Glendronach, would you release a cask strength bourbon cask version - You'll be surprised how many of us out there like it!

Anyway, back to the review, which is an indie bottling done by the lads at The Whisky Exchange in London in their Single Malts of Scotland-series (as was my previous review).

Glendronach Warehouse across from the distillery April 30th 2011 © The Malt Desk

Glendronach 1994 15yo (04.07.1994/02.09.2009) 61,8%, sherry butt#2231, Single Malts of Scotland

Colour is dark amber

A mix of dried fruit and vanilla, fresh smelling garden after the rain, honey and slightly floral hints. Hints of mint, paint, citrus fruits in there as well. Calms down over time and after 10 drops of water, showing a more restrained clean sherry character - lovely nose, but be careful sticking yours too deep in the glass - the alcohol can be numbing!

As clean as they come in the lighter sherry style. Some light raisin and plum notes and a dose of apple and banana in there as well. Vanilla, toffee and spices too. Also a hint of cardboard and a baking dough note. Finishes on a a hint of on slight hint of nutmeg, malt and dash of oak before it dries out.

A very good dram, IMO ...and thanks to GNJ for the sample!


Sunday, 3 November 2013


Those that have been to a distillery or even seen pictures from one, have most likely also noticed the odd shapes and sizes of many of the stills out there.

And, as with alot of other factors (malt specs, fermentation, casks etc.) the shape of the stills also add to the character of the final spirit.

5 things usually contributes to the character (in no particular order). That's the fill level of the stills, the time of the spirit run (cut), the heating of the stills, the shape of the stills and condensing method. Let me just run these past you:

The fill level is how much wash or low wines you put into your stills and the lesser you pump into the still before distillation the more copper contact it will have during the process i.e. resulting in a lighter style of spirit.

Next is the spirit run... the heart of the run or the middle cut. Some has a narrow cut, which only lets the purest of the spirit go through to become whisky after 3 years time. Macallan is one such distillery with a middle cut of only 16% - the rest is re-distilled. Others have a wider cut and this is why sometimes can get whisky that's a little 'rough' or 'hot'.

Then there's the heating of the stills. This is really as much a religion as is stainless steel vs. wooden washbacks. Most distilleries today have steam coils inside the stills for heating and the reason for that is that it gives a more even heating of the liquid inside, being either wash or low wines. I'm sure this is great for consistency and this is what big producers want in their product...

Only a few distilleries today still use direct firing of their stills, among them Springbank in Campbeltown and a very notable Speyside distillery - Glenfarclas. At Glenfarclas they actually did trial runs with steam coils in a couple of still some years back, but reverted to direct firing as they concluded that the spirit coming off these still wasn't quite Glenfarclas. They even did lab tests that confirmed this... So does this have an effect? I'd say yes... as sugars in the sweet wash burns up and stick a bit, maybe... and the low wines gets an uneven heat dispersal perhaps affecting what comes within the spirit cut, maybe - as these are usually timed on a clock.

Then there's the shape of the stills and condensing method. You know they come in almost all shapes and sizes... and this certainly does matter. Small squat stills gives a more heavy and oliy spirit as does still with a small angle° on the neck of the still.  This is because the vapours flowing over the neck of the still starts to condense there already, carrying over the heavier flavur compounds when they reach the neck. Macallan again is a good example of small squat stills. The opposite is i.e Glenmorangie that, with the tallest stills in Scotland (5.13m - picture here), makes a very light spirit, allowing for more reflux (back flow into the still) of vapors - getting it heated up again and with that, usually making it lighter, before it condenses again.

All of the vapours doesn't condense back into liquid form after crossing over the neck of the still, also often referred to as the 'swan's neck'. Some of this happens in the condensers. There's usually two distinct forms of condensers, the widely used tube condensers (pic inside one here). The other one is a worm tub... there usually to forms or rather shapes of worm tubs. A worm tub is a length of copper piping submerged in cooling water, condensing and cooling the vapour/spirit as it passes through the piping. Noticeable distilleries that uses traditional round wormtubs for colling/condensing are Mortlach and Dalwhinnie and the square kind is used at Balmenach and Craigellachie.

Distilling is fun, isn't it? :) ... and I'm sure there's more takes on what contributes to the spirit character than what I've mentioned here... If you have other takes on it, please use the comments field below

Bunnahabhain Stills, May 6th 2011 © The Malt Desk

Bunnahabhain 1979 28yo (31.10.1979/22.04.2008) 46%, ex-bourbon barrel#18831, 234 bottles, Single Malts of Scotland

Colour is full straw

Sweet on vanilla and candied sweets, almost to the point of floral. Malt lurking in the background. Also fresh pancakes. Both orange soda and orange marmelade in there as is sweet apple.

That malty Bunna I love so much shows right away. Then it gets tropical sweet for a moment on pineapple heading towards apple and pear, before settling on a lovely clean malt taste. Finish provides you with some spicyness, mainly in the form of pepper and ginger. Lovely fresh and crisp after 28 years - never getting overly sweet.

Would have loved to try this at full strength whatever that might have been, before being watered down to 46%.