Category Archives: Whisky Reviews

Bowmore Vault Edition First Release

Late last year, Bowmore announced a new Vault Edition limited series, which will explore what they consider to be the four classic characteristics of their distillery style.  To be released on an annual basis, the first of these is entitled Atlantic Sea Salt. The future yearly releases will examine peat smoke, vanilla, and citrus.

These all come from selected barrels in their infamous below-sea level No. 1 Vaults, hence the cute “Vault Edit1°n” labeling on the packaging. The Bowmore Vault Editions are all matured in ex-bourbon casks, and are bottled at high strength (ABV) – 51.4% in the case of the First Release, aka Atlantic Sea Salt.

This First Release is sometimes referred to as “Vault Edition No. 1” online, but I think they are intended to be labelled as First Release, Second Release, and so on. To further confuse matters, Bowmore has also announced a lower-strength 40% ABV “Bowmore No.1”, also coming from the No.1 Vaults. For the sake of clarity, I will refer to this first higher-strength Vault Edition as First Release throughout this review.

Currently available at the LCBO for $200 CAD.

Here is how First Release compares in my Meta-Critic Database to other malts from Bowmore, including some of their special releases and travel retail bottles :

Bowmore 10yo Devil’s Cask (all batches): 8.82 ± 0.31 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore 10yo Tempest: 8.79 ± 0.20 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 12yo: 8.40 ± 0.28 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore 12yo Enigma: 8.52 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$)
Bowmore 15yo Darkest: 8.58 ± 0.34 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 15yo Laimrig: 9.00 ± 0.16 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 15yo Mariner: 8.65 ± 0.44 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore 17yo: 8.35 ± 0.65 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore 17yo White Sands: 8.48 ± 0.56 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 18yo: 8.55 ± 0.47 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore Black Rock: 8.16 ± 0.27 on 5 reviews ($$)
Bowmore Gold Reef: 8.28 ± 0.37 on 5 reviews ($$)
Bowmore Small Batch: 8.27 ± 0.53 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore Springtide: 9.07 ± 0.77 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore Vault Edition First Release: 8.62 ± 0.26 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)

There aren’t a lot of reviews so far, but initial reports place First Release in the general range of scores for its price point for Bowmore (which are typically lower than other peaty whiskies).

I managed to snag a generous pour at a LCBO tasting bar. Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: An unusual peated tar note, along with that classic Bowmore wood smoke.  Has a meaty aroma, which I like. Sweet, with classic vanilla and honey notes – I could easily pick out the ex-bourbon barrel aging without being told. Green apple and citrus (oranges and a touch of lemon). Some salt, but less than I expected given the title. No real off notes, very nice presentation.

Palate: The bourbon barrel character is even more prominent, with sweet vanilla and some toasted oak. Not as smokey, although the salt element definitely picks up now.  Apple and pear, with orange citrus again. Cinnamon and ginger. A touch oily, giving it a chewy mouth feel.  The sweet and salty mix makes it somewhat lip-smacking, but I wish the smokiness was stronger.

Finish: Medium long. ‎The smoke is back. There’s a salty sweetness that lingers, like bacon coated in maple syrup. Some astringency comes in at the end (i.e., a bit drying).

I really enjoyed this dram. As someone who has only sampled the entry-level core range of Bowmore official bottlings so far (i.e., Small Batch, 12yo, and 15yo Darkest), I can safely say this is the best Bowmore I’ve tried to date. It’s a nice easy sipper (even undiluted at 51.5% ABV), with no off-notes – a pleasant experience through and through. That said, it is not as complex as I would have liked for this price point.

The highest score I’ve seen so far comes from Ruud1983 of Reddit (which closely matches my own assessment). Ruben of Whisky Notes gives it a middle-of-the-road score. Thomas of Whisky Saga gives it a slightly lower one.

Copperworks American Single Malt

While in Seattle recently, I took advantage of the opportunity to try a tasting at the new Copperworks distillery. Like Westland, this distillery is also focusing on an “American single malt”, although they are coming at it from a beer brewing perspective.

While its often said that whisky is just distilled beer, there are noticeable differences in production methods. While in both cases malted barley is the source of sugar for fermentation, brewers boil the wort to remove bacterial contaminants that can spoil the beer’s flavour. They also add hops – the bitter-tasting fruit of a vine plant – to balance out beer’s natural sweetness and to act as a natural preservative to stabilize the flavour. Neither step is necessary when distilling whisky, as you not drinking the base product – instead, for whisky you simply ferment the wort, take the resulting wash and distill it. This greatly increases the alcohol level in whisky (which naturally preserves it). Oak barrel aging is then done to balance the whisky’s flavour.

Typically, some brewers have gotten into whisky making by distilling their actual beer (which may require an extra round of distillation, to handle the extra contaminants). Indeed, the press release for the first batch of Copperworks whiskey stated that it was “made from a high-quality craft beer brewed from 100% pale malted barley” from Elysian Brewery.

I sampled Copperwork’s batch 003, which differs significantly from the first two batches. This new release uses a new “Five Malt” recipe consisting of 75% pale malt and 25% caramel malts. The distillery representative referred to this new recipe as their “scotch ale” malt. I note as well that the Elysian website currently says they produce a “sugary wash” (wort?) that Copperworks takes back for fermentation and distillation at their own facility, using Elysian’s house yeast. This suggests to me that Copperworks are now producing whisky directly using this custom five malt mashbill, without going through the full beer-making process (as they presumably were previously with the pale malt on the first two batches).

There aren’t many reviews online for Copperworks, and most of these would be for batch 001/002. But here is how it compares to other North American malt whiskies:

Balcones Texas Single Malt: 8.68 ± 0.34 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Copperworks American Single Malt: 8.59 ± 0.25 on 4 reviews ($$$)
FEW Single Malt: 8.45 ± 0.53 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Westland American Single Malt: 8.57 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Garryana: 8.64 ± 0.09 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Westland Peated: 8.63 ± 0.57 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Sherry Wood: 8.37 ± 0.55 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Winter 2016: 8.5 ± 0.73 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

According to Copperworks, their American Single Malt is twice-distilled in their traditional-style copper pot stills. It is matured for 34 months in full-size, charred, new American Oak barrels, made from Virginia oak and coopered in Kentucky. It is bottled at a fairly high 52% ABV, and retails for $60 USD.  I sampled from bottle 195 of 1559 produced for batch 003. Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: First impression is sweet fruit (with pear and plums especially), and a variety of tropical fruits (mango, papaya, and pineapple). Also citrus, and an herbal component that borders on eucalyptus. Spicy nose, with black pepper. Not much in the way of caramel or vanilla – apparently these were a lot more prominent on the earlier pale malt batches. Noticeable solvent off-notes, mainly acetone.

Palate:  Sweet, with similar plummy notes as the nose.  Unfortunately, that acetone from the nose turns into an artificial sweetener note here. Getting the caramel now, along with a charcoal note from the wood. Adding water brings up butterscotch, and enhances the caramely sweetness.

Copperworks.003Finish: Medium. The artificial sweetener turns into more natural molasses (which is actually a positive). A bit of sourness comes in at the end, but not offensive. Some mild baking spices show up now as well (touch of cinnamon).

It’s an interesting whisky – surprisingly fruity, with some bold flavours. Not really an everyday sort of dram, but a fun novelty when looking for something different. I would personally score it as on par with the standard Westland American Single Malt that I recently reviewed. It will be interesting to see how this product progresses.

For reviews of the earlier batch 001/002, check out Whisky Advocate, the Whiskey Wash and the Whiskey Reviewer.

Nikka From The Barrel

Another omission on my part – I recently realized that I had not reviewed this staple of the Nikka no-age-statment (NAS) line, Nikka Whisky From The Barrel. The occasion of opening my second bottle seemed like a good opportunity to plug this obvious hole in my review catalog.

First thing to clear up is the rather odd name – this is not a select barrel single malt expression.  Instead, it is a blend of Japanese malt whisky from Yoichi distillery and grain whisky from Miyagikyo distillery, which has been married in oak casks (as opposed to the more common method of giant stainless-steel vatting tanks). Hence the name – it is coming from the blending barrel, not the maturing barrel.

Unusually, it is bottled at near-cask strength (51.4% ABV), which is rather high for a Japanese whisky). The source of casks used is not reported, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some refill sherry ones found their way into the mix.

This expression is a staple of the travel retail duty-free circuit. You won’t typically find it in the U.S. because it comes in the non-standard 500mL bottle size (although I’ve also seen the humongous 3L size in my travels as well). The bottle is distinctive, with its squat and stubby appearance – it looks like something you would have found in a pre-1950s apothecary. Not available at the LCBO, it is readily available in BC  ($64 CAD, plus taxes).

Let’s see how it compares to other entry-level Japanese whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

Hibiki Harmony: 8.38 ± 0.59 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Kakubin (Suntory Whisky): 8.15 ± 0.85 on 4 reviews ($$)
Nikka All Malt: 8.45 ± 0.16 on 8 reviews ($$)
Nikka Coffey Grain: 8.59 ± 0.49 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Coffey Malt: 8.80 ± 0.44 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka From the Barrel: 8.83 ± 0.39 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt Black: 8.79 ± 0.22 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt Red: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt White: 8.65 ± 0.32 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Super: 8.00 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Taketsuru NAS: 8.24 ± 0.38 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Suntory Old Whisky: 8.31 ± 0.33 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Suntory Toki: 8.21 ± 0.46 on 6 reviews ($$$)
White Oak Akashi Blended: 7.98 ± 0.43 on 6 reviews ($$$)

As you can see above, Nikka FTB is a top-scorer for this category, scoring higher than even more expensive premium NAS expressions like Nikka Coffey Grain and Hibiki Harmony.  My bottle comes from travel duty free.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Brown sugar sweetness, with a bit of honey. Fruity, with apricots, plums (light and dark colored), red grapes and a good amount of banana. Caramel and vanilla. Cinnamon and a little all-spice. Some ethanol heat, but not bad for the ABV. No real off notes. Adding water brings up the vanilla and caramel (but oddly not the fruit).

Palate: Very creamy, with sweet caramel and toffee notes. Brown sugar again. Fruits are there, but seem a bit tart (and joined by some lemon citrus). Oakier than the nose suggested. Great mouthfeel, creamy and granular at the same time (i.e., creamed sugar). Packs a punch though – ethanol fumes come back at the end, so you will want to try this with a bit of water. Gets drier near the end of the palate.  With water, you get some taming of the ethanol heat – but go lightly here, or you will also diminish the mouthfeel. If anything, it brings up the tartness more than the sweetness (which is unusual).

Finish:  Medium. The sweet caramel note is there, with some lighter spices now (nutmeg). Some oaky bitterness shows up over time, persisting longer than the sweet notes. With water, I get a very faint hint of smoke.

Nikka From The BarrelFrankly, I would not have immediately pegged this as a blend – it seems malt-heavy (although the higher strength may be contributing to that perception). This one really needs a little water (and I emphasize, little) to open up all the flavours and tame the ethanol burn.

It’s a great expression for the price, having garnered plenty of fans. Very positive are Dave of Whisky Advocate,  Nathan the Scotch Noob, Thomas of Whisky Saga, and Dramtastic of Japanese Whisky Review (depending on the batch). Indeed, almost all reviewers in my database give this expression an above-average score, except for a few like Jason of In Search of Elegance and Ruben of Whisky Notes. Certainly my top pick for NAS Japanese whiskies in retail travel duty free.

McClelland’s Islay Single Malt

Most reviewer’s naturally migrate to higher quality, more complex – and more expensive – whiskies as time goes by. But it is always worthwhile to take a step back and explore entry-level malts and blends, so see if there are any good value buys out there.

McClelland’s is an unusual “brand”. It produces what is known in the biz as “mystery malts” (or more colloquially, “bastard malts”), where the source distillery for each single malt expression is not identified. McClelland’s was originally a Glasgow-based whisky blending and export firm, until it was purchased in 1970 by what was to eventually become known today as Morrison Bowmore Distillers.

Morrison Bowmore owns three malt distilleries – the Lowland Auchentoshan, the Highland Glen Garioch, and Isle of Islay’s Bowmore. They sell a wide range of official bottlings of single malts from these distilleries. But Morrison Bowmore has long used the McClelland’s brand for unspecified single malt bottlings of “Lowland”, “Highland”, and “Islay” regional whiskies.  Care to make any guesses as to where they are likely sourcing the barrels for those three regions? 😉  It’s not much of a stretch to imagine.  Since 1999, they have also been producing a “Speyside” expression (source of barrels unknown).

There are plenty of independent bottlings of these three distilleries as well – which raises the question of what sorts of barrels are finding their way into the budget McClelland’s offerings. As a point of reference, all the McClelland’s regional single malt whiskies sell for $45 CAD at the LCBO – whereas the entry-level NAS expressions for these three distilleries all start at $60 CAD.

I had skipped over these McClelland’s in my early scotch drinking exposure, and didn’t even bother incorporating them into my Meta-Critic database initially.  But I had the chance to sample the McClelland’s Islay Single Malt recently at a bar. Here is what I found in the glass:

Nose: Wow, that’s more potent than I expected – heavy medicinal peat, with lots of salty seaweed. Very strong coastal Islay presence, with greater complexity than your typical entry-level Bowmore (with its typically simple smoke). Has a decaying vegetative character, with a touch of iodine. Unfortunately, with that also comes some unusual funky notes, like old sweats socks. Beyond that (and it takes a while to get past that), some lemony spirit asserts itself, along with some sweet light caramel and vanilla. A bit of ethanol burn. While young, this is actually a surprisingly promising start.

Palate: Ok, where did it go?  After that heavy olfactory assault, it just seems to disappear in the mouth. Lightly sweet, with standard caramel and vanilla. Some kind of vague fruitiness, but artificial. Nutty (peanuts). Extremely watery mouthfeel, hard to believe this is even 40% ABV. All the smell of Islay and none of the flavour – I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a single malt evaporating so quickly in the mouth.

Finish: Fairly short (although that’s not necessarily a bad thing here). Touch of vegetal character comes back, with that funk in particular. Smoke lingers, but then so does the funk. Sweet vanilla lasts to the end.

I actually spent a fair amount of time nosing this one, as I was taken aback by its complexity. Perhaps I had unfairly misjudged these entry-level mystery malts, I thought.  But the first sip made it clear why this falls into the category it does – there is really not much here.

Here is how the McClelland’s compare in my Meta-Critic database, relative to their underlying base distilleries owned by Morrison Bowmore.

McClelland’s Speyside Single Malt: 6.71 ± 0.48 on 6 reviews ($$)
McClelland’s Highland Single Malt: 7.08 ± 0.47 on 7 reviews ($$)
McClelland’s Lowland Single Malt: 7.04 ± 0.51 on 4 reviews ($$)
McClelland’s Islay Single Malt: 7.94 ± 0.64 on 8 reviews ($$)

Auchentoshan American Oak: 7.55 ± 0.91 on 7 reviews ($$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.29 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore Small Batch: 8.28 ± 0.56 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore 12yo: 8.39 ± 0.29 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve: 8.35 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Glen Garioch Virgin Oak: 8.12 ± 0.50 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Garioch 12yo: 8.65 ± 0.32 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

McClellands.IslayAs you can see above, this Islay is actually the highest ranked member of the McClelland’s family – although all are ranked well below the official bottlings from the (presumed) source distilleries. I would personally score the McClelland’s Islay lower than the Meta-Critic average.

The most positive reviews for this Islay expression come for the guys at Quebec Whisky. My own assessment is more in line with Jan of Best Shot Whisky and Josh the Whiskey Jug. Josh’s review in particular closely matches my own tasting notes. I also share his assessment that Morrison Bowmore is likely using McClelland’s as a dumping ground for poor quality barrels they can’t otherwise offload.

In my view, I think you are best sticking with the entry level age-statement expressions from the underlying distilleries here. And if you are ok with a bit less smoke, for $5 CAD less than the McClelland’s Islay you can pick up the quite decent Te Bheag blended scotch whisky at the LCBO.

Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton

Following up on my review of the standard Green Spot, this is a relatively rare example of a wine-cask-finished Irish whiskey – Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton.

Château Léoville Barton is a grand cru Bordeaux wine-maker, but one with Irish roots.  The Chateau takes its name from the family of the 18th century Irish merchant Thomas Barton, and is still run by his descendants to this day.  So when Midleton began to experiment with secondary maturation of their whiskies in novel casks, this shared heritage must have seemed like a natural fit.

This whisky starts out as the traditional Green Spot pot still whisky, aged in a mix of 75% ex-bourbon casks and 25% Oloroso sherry casks for 7-10 years. For this expression, it then gets transferred into French Oak Leoville Barton Bordeaux wine casks for an additional 12 to 24 months of aging. It is thoughtfully bottled at 46% ABV (as opposed to 40% for regular Green Spot), and is neither chill-filtered nor coloured.

Typically, I am a fan of fortified-wine finishes for delicate whiskies, as it can add a lot of extra complexity (when well-matched to the underlying base spirit).  My experience with regular wine barrel finishes is more mixed however, as this can some times introduce an odd sourness to the final product, with a mismatch of competing flavours. So I was curious to see how this expression would perform.

As usual, let’s start with how it compares in my Meta-Critic database to other high-end Irish whiskies, including various winey cask finishes:

Bushmills Black Bush: 8.35 ± 0.41 on 20 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Sherry Cask Reserve: 8.20 ± 0.43 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot: 8.47 ± 0.39 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton: 8.82 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 14yo Twin Wood: 8.12 ± 0.69 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 16yo Twin Wood: 8.79 ± 0.47 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy: 9.03 ± 0.18 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.09 ± 0.29 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare (all vintages): 8.81 ± 0.50 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.80 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast All Sherry Single Cask 1999: 8.43 ± 0.90 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast Lustau Edition: 8.81 ± 0.39 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast Mano a Lámh: 8.65 ± 0.44 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Teeling Silver Reserve 21yo Sauternes Finish: 8.90 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish): 8.53 ± 0.32 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Madeira Cask Finish: 8.55 ± 0.39 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Port Cask Finish: 8.54 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Sherry Cask Finish: 8.32 ± 0.16 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

My sample was obtained through a swap with the user Throzen on the reddit whisky network. Released in small batches each year, it is currently available at the LCBO for $90 CAD for a 700mL bottle.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: A slight reddish hue added to standard Green Spot.

Nose: Thick raspberry jam and blueberry fruit compote jump right up your nostrils! A luscious nose, with all kinds of sweet, ripe berry notes. Lots of honey. Oatmeal cookies. Some vanilla. The initial difference from standard Green Spot is astounding, with the wine cask dominating. But with time, I can start to pull out those more subtle lemon curd and buttery notes that are coming from the base spirit. Faintest touch of acetone. With water, the honey notes are further heightened, along with some dark fuits (figs?). It’s worth a little splash.

Palate: Very creamy, with the luscious fruit medley leading the way. Some lemony citrus again, maybe some orange too. A little bit of burn, likely due to the higher 46% ABV. Mouthfeel and taste seems a bit fudge-like, actually. Similar baking spice as the regular Green Spot, and vanilla too – a good mix. The dry oakiness reasserts itself at the end. Water increases the honey sweetness and earthiness (same as on the nose), and softens the burn.

Finish: Medium long. Lots of cereal notes showing up now, and the spiciness lasts a surprising length of time. Also the vanilla.  This is a lot more layered and longer-lasting than most Irish whiskeys I’ve had.

No doubt about it, that was a unique experience – one of the best wine barrel finishings I’ve come across yet. Green Spot is a bit of an open slate in some ways – and this nicely tells a great story all around it. But the original Green Spot is still there, buried under a jammy fruit avalanche.

It is quite an enchanting mix, actually, and much better than what I normally see for wine casks finishes. And by all means, feel free to play around with a little water on this one – a small amount actually increases the aromas.

I would actually rank it slightly higher than the Meta-Critic average. Recently brought back to the LCBO, I recommend you pick one up while you still can (the Midleton “spot” family tends to sell out quickly, I’ve noticed). Surprisingly, it only costs $5 more a bottle over the regular Green Spot. It’s worth that on the extra 6% ABV alone!

The must enthusiastic reviews I’ve seen for this whisky probably come from Josh the Whiskey Jug and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. Nathan the Scotch Noob, Jonny of Whisky Advocate and Throzen and xile_ of Reddit are also all very positive. Jim Murray (who is a big fan of regular Green Spot) is the only negative review I’ve seen for this expression.

Green Spot Irish Whiskey

Green Spot is popular single pot still Irish whisky (aka a pure pot still). This is the traditional method for whisky production in Ireland. Like in the case of Redbreast, a single pot still means a combination of malted and unmalted barley that is distilled together in a single large copper pot still.

There are some analogies here to Scottish single malts, as single pot still whiskies make the flavourful base for the more common blended Irish whiskies. Similarly, individual single pot still bottlings form the higher-end of the Irish whisky market, just as single malts do for scotch whisky.  Note that Irish whisky is typically triple-distilled, often resulting in a gentler base spirit than most scotch whiskies.

Produced by Irish Distillers, Green Spot is also distinguished as one of the few remaining “bonded” Irish whiskies. Along with its longer-aged sibling Yellow Spot, these bonded whiskeys are specifically produced and sold by an independent wine merchant in Ireland, Mitchell & Son of Dublin.

The whisky’s name is said to have originated from Mitchell’s practice of marking casks of different ages with spot of coloured paint. Green Spot (the second youngest, at 10 years old originally) became their most popular seller, and is the only one to remain in continuous production. Yellow Spot (which was 12 years old) was relaunched in 2012, and will be the focus of an upcoming review.

The Green Spot sold today is a no-age-statement (NAS) whisky, and is a little younger than earlier versions (reported to be between 7 and 10 years old).  It is aged in 75% American oak ex-bourbon barrels and 25% in Oloroso sherry casks.

There is no statement about colouring, and so it is likely caramel colored – although I don’t think much is used (judging by its light apple juice appearance). There is also no statement about chill-filtering, so I think we can safely assume that it is (given that it is bottled at just 40% ABV).

Let’s see how it compares to other higher-end Irish whiskies (single pot still and blends) in my Meta-Critic database:

Green Spot: 8.47 ± 0.39 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton: 8.82 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Gold Reserve: 8.44 ± 0.42 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.34 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$)
Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy: 9.03 ± 0.18 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.09 ± 0.29 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare (all vintages): 8.81 ± 0.50 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.80 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Powers 12yo Reserve: 8.62 ± 0.25 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Powers Signature: 8.13 ± 0.60 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.03 ± 0.32 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.73 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 21yo: 9.19 ± 0.32 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast Lustau Edition: 8.81 ± 0.39 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey: 8.45 ± 0.37 on 15 reviews ($$)
Yellow Spot: 8.77 ± 0.26 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

Green Spot gets a reasonable score for its price point, in the Irish whiskey class. It’s released in small batches every year, and is just recently available again at the LCBO for $85 CAD. My sample came from a 50mL sample (in a glass bottle), obtained as part of set sold in Ireland.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Lightly sweet, with white sugar and barley as the principal notes. Caramel and creamy vanilla. Lightly fruity, with apple and pear, and some faint sherry overtones (golden raisins). Citrus (lemon curd). A touch of mint, and something slightly herbal. A nice Irish nose, with no real off notes (beyond perhaps the faintest touch of glue). Water brings up some nose hair prickle (oddly) and unripen green fruits.

Palate: More syrupy sweetness up front, almost honey-like, with accentuated caramel notes. Very soft, coats the mouth and tongue – absolutely no burn. Buttery. Some baking spices and ginger now, which are nice. Not very fruity, beyond the continuing lemony citrus. A bit of bourbon oak asserts itself at the end. Very easy drinking. Water dulls what little fruitiness is here, but seems to bring up the spiciness a bit.

Green.SpotFinish: Medium. “Soft” is really the best way to describe this whisky. Although there is a touch of bitterness associated with the wood, these are not offensive.  A throat lozenge sweetened with honey and lemon might describe this well – makes me think of a high-end cold remedy!

A solid expression, with some nice lemon and spice notes. Certainly nothing wrong with it – but nothing particularly exciting either. Better than most NAS Irish whiskies I’ve tried, and a good easy-drinking introduction to the class.  I think the average Meta-Critic score is reasonable. But at $85 CAD, there are probably better value options across the range of  Irish whiskies for you to try.

The most extremely positive reviews I’ve seen for Green Spot come from of Jonny of Whisky Advocate and Jim Murray. Nathan the Scotch Noob and Serge of Whisky Fun are also very positive. Personally, I probably fall more in line with Josh the Whiskey Jug, Richard and John of Whiskey Reviewer and Ralfy. The only truly negative review I’ve seen on this one comes from My Annoying Opinions.

Knob Creek 9 Year Old Small Batch Bourbon

Knob Creek is one of the premium bourbon brands put out by American whisky maker Jim Beam.  It is aged longer than most bourbons (currently stated as 9 years on the label), and is bottled at a higher proof (50% ABV).

Supposedly, the spirit for Knob Creek comes off the stills at a lower proof than standard Jim Beam, thus retaining a little bit more spirit character (i.e., the esters and congeners that give whisky its core characteristics). See my Source of Whisky’s Flavour page for a detailed discussion of how wood barrel aging turns this into finished whisky.

It is also an example of a typical “low rye” bourbon – although there is no universally-agreed level for what proportion of rye in a mashbill qualifies as such (and most makers don’t publish exact levels anyway). Nevertheless, most enthusiasts would place Knob Creek in same relatively low-rye category as the other Jim Beam brands, Elijah Craig, Evan Williams and the main mashbill used by Buffalo Trace/Eagle Rare/Stagg, etc. This is in contrast to bourbons which have a higher amount of rye flavouring, like Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Bulleit, Woodford, 1792, etc.

Let’s see how Knob Creek compares to other low-rye mashbill bourbons in my Meta-Critic database:

Baker’s: 7yo 8.79 ± 0.29 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Basil Hayden’s: 8.38 ± 0.26 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Booker’s Small Batch: 8.88 ± 0.29 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Buffalo Trace: 8.57 ± 0.42 on 19 reviews ($$)
Eagle Rare 10yo: 8.55 ± 0.32 on 20 reviews ($$)
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof: 8.86 ± 0.21 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Elijah Craig 12yo: 8.69 ± 0.28 on 20 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams Single Barrel: 8.71 ± 0.23 on 15 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams BiB (White label): 8.32 ± 0.53 on 9 reviews ($)
Evan Williams (Black Label): 8.18 ± 0.40 on 14 reviews ($)
Henry McKenna: 8.07 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($)
Henry McKenna 10yo Single Barrel BiB: 8.89 ± 0.23 on 8 reviews ($$)
Jim Beam Black Label: 8.21 ± 0.42 on 15 reviews ($)
Jim Beam Devil’s Cut: 8.05 ± 0.51 on 16 reviews ($)
Knob Creek Small Batch 9yo: 8.61 ± 0.40 on 21 reviews ($$)
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve: 8.80 ± 0.27 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Stagg Jr (all batches): 8.57 ± 0.40 on 16 reviews ($$$$)

Knob.Creek.MiniatureStandard Knob Creek gets a good score for the price in this class of bourbons.

I recently sampled this from a 50mL sample bottle while on my travels in the US (glass bottle, shown on the right). A nice miniature scale reproduction of the larger bottle, right down to the engraved lot code on the back (which are rare to see on miniatures).

Colour: Red delicious apple juice

Nose: Classic bourbon nose, though not too strong. Woody (oaky), with caramel and vanilla notes, plus pancake syrup. Earthy. A bit of cherry (which I often get on bourbons). Light rye spices (nutmeg mainly). Melted butter. Touch of acetone at the end, but subtle. A sweeter and fuller-body version of Basil Hayden’s comes to mind.

Palate: Classic bourbon presentation again, with caramel and vanilla to the fore. No real fruits to speak of. Nutty (peanuts in particular, which I gather is a Jim Beam hallmark). Tobacco leaf and a touch of dark chocolate. Pepper joins the nutmeg (plus some cinnamon too now). Chewy texture, with a bit more kick than typical (thanks to 50% ABV). Pretty decent bourbon, with a good range of straightforward flavours.

Finish: Medium. Toasty, with wood spice and some vanilla. There’s a slight sourness here – its also dry, with a mild mouth-puckering astringency at the end.

Knob.CreekSurprisingly easy to drink neat, despite the slightly sour/dry aspect.  Quite a respectable bourbon, especially for the price. I would put it on par with Elijah Craig in terms of quality, although it is perhaps a touch less flavourful. Personally, I still prefer the Buffalo Trace/Eagle Rare/Stagg juice (the latter two  are under-rated in the Meta-Critic database, in my view).

Given its quality – and bonafides described earlier – Knob Creek is a good choice for both sipping neat and in mixed drinks.

For further reviews of this bourbon, Lew of Whisky Advocate is very keen on it, as is Jim Murray. More moderately positive are Nathan the Scotchnoob, Josh the Whiskey Jug, and Richard of the Whiskey Reviewer. Ralfy is less of a fan of this one.

Tomatin Cu Bocan 1989 Limited Edition

I don’t have much experience with Tomatin. This distillery produces a wide range of single malts – including a large number of inexpensive expressions that I’ve been meaning to try (but haven’t gotten around to yet).

And then I spotted this 1989 limited edition of the Cu Bocan line on the cheap at Dr Jekyll’s bar in Oslo, Norway. This is one of the highest scoring Tomatin expressions in my Meta-Critic database (and one of the most expensive at >$350 a bottle, if you could find it). It was available in the bar for low price of 128 NOK for a standard 4 cl pour (1.35 oz), which works out to about $20 CAD. They have an interesting policy in the bar – when a bottle is nearly empty, they discount it up to half-off in order to clear it out (hence the low price above).

According to the distillery, the name “Cù Bòcan” comes a mythical hellhound that has supposedly stalked residents of the village of Tomatin for centuries. Only 1,080 bottles of this limited edition 1989 vintage were made. It was aged for 25 years in three ex-bourbon casks, and is apparently a “rare and unintentional production of peated whisky” for the distillery.  It is bottled at a cask strength (53.2% ABV), and is as you would expect non-chill filtered.

Note there are a number of limited release vintage Cu Bocans (i.e., 1988, 1989 and 2005), in addition to the lower-priced, NAS, lightly-peated standard Cu Bocan bottling (which comes from a mix of cask types). There are also a few special editions of the standard Cu Bocan that emphasize a particular aspect of the barreling (i.e., Cu Bocan Sherry cask, Bourbon cask, and Virgin Oak editions).

There are not a lot of reviews these Cu Bocans, but here is how various Tomatin expressions compare in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Tomatin 14yo Portwood: 8.58 ± 0.36 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin 12yo: 7.87 ± 0.59 on 16 reviews ($$)
Tomatin 15yo: 8.33 ± 0.53 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin 18yo: 8.67 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Cask Strength: 8.38 ± 0.47 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Cu Bocan: 8.08 ± 0.33 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Cu Bocan 1989 Limited Edition: 8.95 ± 0.25 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Tomatin Cu Bocan Sherry Edition: 8.36 ± 0.28 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Cu Bocan Virgin Oak Edition: 8.50 ± 0.50 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Decades: 8.96 ± 0.52 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Tomatin Legacy: 8.12 ± 0.46 on 10 reviews ($$)

And now to some other peated single malts:

BenRiach 21yo Authenticus Peated: 8.88 ± 0.38 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore 10yo Devil’s Cask: 8.81 ± 0.32 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore 15yo Laimrig: 9.00 ± 0.16 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 18yo: 8.55 ± 0.47 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Peated: 8.50 ± 0.32 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.11 ± 0.23 on 22 reviews ($$$$$)
Jura 16yo Diurach’s Own: 8.48 ± 0.39 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow 18yo: 9.11 ± 0.25 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 18yo: 8.96 ± 0.18 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)
Talisker 18yo: 9.18 ± 0.20 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Tobermory 15yo: 8.54 ± 0.34 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)

As you can see, this limited edition Tomatin is one of their highest scoring expressions, and in-line with other popular peated expressions from other makers.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Smokey sweetness hits you right off. Has a hickory-smoked barbecue quality to it (think glazed BBQ ribs). Fruity, with pear and apple as the main fruits, along with golden raisins and some citrus (orange). Touch of honey and vanilla. Seems like a mix of mainly aged bourbon casks. No real off notes.

Palate: Not as overtly smokey as the nose, moving more into earthy peat qualities now. Tart and astringent, with more of the citrus poking through. Still apple and pear, joined by plums. Honey and caramel. Some pepper. A bit grassy. Creamy mouthfeel, and surprisingly easy to sip neat. A fabulous sensory experience here.

Finish: Ashy with sweet peat and juicy fruits. Nice long lingering effect, in keeping with a good quality, aged, lightly peated single malt. A bit astringent on the way out.

Tomatin.Cu.Bocan.1989Water doesn’t really bring up anything new on this one. Despite the high ABV, I recommend you try it neat first, and then add any water as you feel is necessary.

Probably the closest match to the level of peatiness in my experience is Springbank 18 yo (but without the sherry influence here). You get a similar level of maturity and complexity (and perhaps not surprisingly, a very similar average Meta-Critic score). If it weren’t for the high cost, I would be happy to have a bottle of this around. I think the average Meta-Critic score is quite fair for this 1989 limited edition.

Thomas of Whisky Saga is a big fan of this one, as is Jim Murray. A more moderate score comes from Gavin of Whisky Advocate.

Redbreast Lustau Edition

Redbreast has always had a strong following among single pot still whisky devotees. In Redbreast’s hands, this combination of malted and unmalted barley, triple-distilled in copper pot stills, produces a distinctive flavour profile that rivals many single malts. The standard 12 year old expression remains a staple for many whisky fans, with its great flavour-to-price ratio.

So you can imagine some trepidation when a new entry-level NAS version was announced, the Redbreast Lustau Edition. Rest assured, there are no immediate plans to retire the standard 12 yo expression. Lustau is meant to be a new permanent release, to complement the existing stable of standard Redbreast whiskies (i.e., the 12, 12 Cask Strength, 15 and 21 year olds).

The concept behind this new expression is interesting. Irish Distillers (who own Redbreast) have a close relationship with the sherry maker Bodegas Lustau in Jerez, Spain. For this release, they prepared customs casks from a local cooperage in Jerez, which first held Bodegas Lustau’s popular Oloroso sherry. The sourced Redbreast whisky for this expression comes from a mix of ex-bourbon barrels and sherry casks, blended together and finished in these Lustau first-fill sherry butts for one additional year.

It has been widely reported online that the base Redbreast spirit is between 9 and 12 years old for this expression.  Bottled at 46% ABV, Redbreast Lustau is not chill-filtered, and no color has been added (which are always appreciated). Although not listed yet in inventory for the LCBO, I recently spotted it as a local store for $90 CAD (which is $10 more than the standard 12 yo).

Let’s see how it compares to the other Redbreasts in my Meta-Critic database, and some of the other wine cask-finished Irish whiskeys:

Redbreast 21yo: 9.20 ± 0.33 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast Lustau Edition: 8.81 ± 0.40 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast Mano a Lámh: 8.66 ± 0.44 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast All Sherry Single Cask 1999: 8.43 ± 0.90 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.03 ± 0.32 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.73 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews ($$$$)

Bushmills Sherry Cask Reserve: 8.20 ± 0.42 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton: 8.78 ± 0.35 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 14yo Twin Wood: 8.12 ± 0.69 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 16yo Twin Wood: 8.79 ± 0.48 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Teeling Silver Reserve 21yo Sauternes Finish: 8.90 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish): 8.47 ± 0.27 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Madeira Cask Finish: 8.55 ± 0.39 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Port Cask Finish: 8.54 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Sherry Cask Finish: 8.32 ± 0.16 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Although based on only 4 reviews so far, the Lustau is more than holding its own against the standard 12 yo – and is scoring quite highly for the class overall.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: Slightly darker than the standard 12 year old, with a bit more of a reddish hue that the usual Redbreast golden tones.

Nose: Definite sherry cask finishing, with chocolate, raisins, prunes and dates. Brown sugar and honey, with a bit of marzipan. Light fruits are still there, especially apple (think stewed apples). Some citrus (orange). Black licorice (anise) and a bit of cinnamon.  I previously speculated there was some sherry cask in the 12 yo mix, but this definitely amps it up. It is not a “sherry bomb” though, and the integration of sherry notes to the base Redbreast character seems good.  A faint hint of solvent, less noticeable than the 12 yo (likely due to the extra layering of sherry sweetness).

Palate: Sweet, in a honeyed way, with raisins and dates adding richness. Definite chocolate and nougat – almost candy bar like. Candied orange peel now. Oakiness comes through as well, with some spice – plus vanilla added to the cinnamon. Despite the higher ABV, it seems to have a less oily mouthfeel than the 12 yo – more like whipped frosting instead of the usual creaminess. Some of the classic Redbreast character may be subdued (i.e., less nutty here), but the effect is still pleasant, with more added than lost.

Finish: Moderately long, but fairly light. You get persistent sweetness and spice – and a rising flat cola effect that I first noted on the 12 yo.  Some woody bitterness picks up, but it is less noticeable than the 12yo (again, likely due to the extra sherry sweetness here).  Not particularly complex, but decent for the class.

Finishing in sherry casks can be a double-edge sword. For a base spirit with substantial character, it brings in additional notes and sweetness. But for a delicate base spirit, it can drown out the subtleties that provide identity (see for example my recent review of Westland American single malts).

Redbreast Lustau

Redbreast Lustau

The classic “sticky” single pot still character of Redbreast is able to hold its own here pretty well.  It does seem to be lacking a few of the classic Redbreast features (i.e., the “tropical fruits” and nuttiness). But personally, I never found a lot of tropical fruit in the 12 yo anyway (although I do detect them big time in the 21 yo).

On the whole, I find this treatment has added rather than subtracted from the standard 12 yo expression. In a structured tasting alongside the 12 yo, this would be a great way to showcase the effect of additional sherry finishing. The higher ABV here (46% on the Lustau, compared to 40% on the 12 yo) is also helping with a greater flavour experience overall on the Lustau. Head-to-head, I suspect most would prefer the Lustau (I know I do).

As an aside to how quaffable this new expression is, I actually drained the glass before I thought to add water!  So I had to pour a second one to experiment. 😉 Water quickly dulls the nose, and if anything accentuates the solvent note. In the mouth, it further lightens the mouthfeel and doesn’t bring out anything new. Fairly neutral on the finish.  As a result, I recommend you sample Lustau neat.

The persistent bitterness in the finish of the 12 yo was always a bit of a turn-off for me – and so, I personally rank it a little lower than the Meta-Critic average. Although there are only a few reviews of the Lustau so far, the average score presented here is in keeping with what I would give this expression. Nice to see a NAS expression that brings something new to the table!

There aren’t many reviews of this one out there yet, but I recommend you check out Jonny of Whisky Advocate and Ruben of Whisky Notes for very positive reviews. Richard of the Whiskey Reviewer gives it a below average score for the class.

Westland American Single Malts

Westland is a relatively new American whiskey maker, based in Seattle, Washington state. Rather than try to compete with the established US bourbon makers, they have opted instead to focus on a distinctive style of single malt whisky.

For this review, I’m going to look at their core range of single malts, as well as their most recent special release.

I recently had a tour of the distillery, and discovered that Westland malts and distills their own custom mashbill blend of five distinct types of barley – Washington Select Pale Malt, Munich Malt, Extra Special Malt, Pale Chocolate Malt, and Brown Malt. They use a Belgian “brewer’s yeast”, which is a different strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae than the ubiquitous type M distiller’s yeast that Scottish distillers use. Check out Whisky Science if you want to know all about yeast strains and whisky making.

Here are the wash still, spirit still and spirit safe, from the tour:

Westland1

The Westland custom copper pot still design is also rather unusual, and looks a bit like a hybrid of a traditional pot still and a continuous column still (see close-up photos below). I gather they run it in different modes, on occasion.

Westland0

Another area of distinctiveness is barrelling. Unlike old world malts – and much like other American whiskeys – most of the Westland distillate goes into charred virgin American oak barrels.  Along with the other characteristics above, this makes for a distinctive product they like to call an “American single malt” (not that any such term has legal standing at present).

Of course, another reason for this virgin barrel selection is so that they can offer fairly young malt whiskies for sale. If they used ex-bourbon barrels for their core range (as is the case for most Scottish malts), they would presumably have to wait much longer before they produced a drinkable product. Check out my source of whisky flavour page for an explanation of what barreling adds to a whisky.

As an aside, I gather an increasing portion of their production is currently going into the ex-bourbon barrels, as they plan for the future. They also age some spirit in sherry casks, as I will describe below. And they have been experimenting with barrels of Garry oak (Quercus garryana), a species of white oak native to the Pacific Northwest.

Note that the French drinks group Rémy Cointreau (current owners of Bruichladdich) have recently acquired Westland. This suggests we will see a ramp up in production over the coming years, with greater brand awareness for Westland (and the American single malt category in general).

Let’s see how the core lines compare to other North American malt whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Balcones Texas Single Malt: 8.67 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Copperworks American Single Malt: 8.68 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$)
FEW Single Malt: 8.44 ± 0.53 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 10yo Ice: 8.19 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 10yo Rare: 8.01 ± 0.46 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 14yo: 8.06 ± 0.63 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 15yo Battle of the Glen: 8.52 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
High West Campfire: 8.78 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Stalk & Barrel Single Malt: 8.26 ± 0.40 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Westland American Single Malt: 8.46 ± 0.27 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Garryana: 8.66 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Westland Peated: 8.53 ± 0.56 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Sherry Wood: 8.30 ± 0.56 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

Although the number of reviews are typically low for this class, the various Westland expressions seem to score toward the higher end of the group.

Now, on to a description of each of the various Westland whiskies, and my personal tasting notes:


Westland American Oak

This uses their standard 5-malt mashbill. It is aged for 2-3 years in mainly charred virgin American oak barrels, with some proportion of first-fill ex-bourbon. Bottled at 46% ABV. You could consider it their standard, base offering.

Nose:  Caramel and vanilla are prominent (as you might expect from the virgin oak). Cinnamon. Lightly fruity, but nothing specific initially stands out (on repeated sampling, I started to find banana and citrus). Creamy. Seems young (not surprisingly), with classic acetone notes – but as bad as I expected for the age. Water brings up the baking spice further, and the sweetness.

Palate: Butterscotch picks up now, joining the caramel. Hint of cherries, but still not a lot of specific fruit. Boston cream pie. Texture is a touch waxy, and a bit light overall. With a little water, whisky gets a bit more chewy (which is good). Of course, sweetness picks up too.

Finish: Medium length. Surprisingly, some new elements pick up now that I wasn’t really getting on the nose and palate – particularly citrus (lemon and orange zest) and menthol.

This is better than I expected, given the age. There are less off-notes than other young whiskies I’ve come across, and a bit of complexity comes across in the palate and finish that wasn’t initially present on the nose.  I think the Meta-Critic average score for this expression is fair.


Westland Sherry Wood

This uses the same distillate as the American Oak, based on the standard 5-malt mashbill. I originally expected that they used the same barrels from above and simply finished for a period of extra time in sherry casks (i.e., the label describes them as “matured in sherry casks”).  But according to the tour, this expression is actually a vatting of the base spirit that was aged 50% in sherry casks (a combination of PX and Oloroso), and 50% in virgin American oak (i.e, same as the standard American Oak series). Again, aged for 2-3 years, and similarly bottled at 46% ABV.

Nose: Sweet barley notes, moreso than the American Oak. Dried dark fruits. Indeed, nose is very dry, suggesting a larger Oloroso component. That said, I do get some pancake/maple syrup notes as well, which could be from the PX. No real off notes, as these are hidden under the syrup.

Palate: Very syrupy, and less fruity. It is much sweeter tasting than the nose suggested. Getting some chocolate now, and some Graham crackers. But it feels like much of the complexity of the American Oak is lost in the mix, with the overwhelming sweetness.

Finish: Medium-ish, but very simple. Very sweet coating left on the tongue (and not much else).

Upon making the comment about how the nose seems biased more toward Oloroso, my tour guide responded that the early batches were mainly Pedro Ximénez, but currently they are using predominantly Oloroso in the mix for Sherry Wood.

Overall, this reminds me a bit of the new Pike Creek rum finish in Canada – it lacks complexity, and the subtle notes of the base spirit are drowned out by an overwhelming sweetness.  Not particularly my cup of tea, so I would rate this one slightly lower than the base American Oak (as do most of the reviewers, it seems). But if you like a sweeter rum-like finishing, this could suit you.


Westland Peated

Although Westland has found a domestic source of Washington state peat, it has taken them some time to get the whole process up and running. So all the peated expressions currently for sale stem from the original peated Scottish malt they sourced directly from the highlands (didn’t jot down the name, but it was near Inverness, apparently). The heavily peated malt distillate is mixed with spirit from some of their standard American 5-malt, making a lightly peated final product. They age this mix in a combination of virgin American oak and first-fill ex-bourbon barrels. Similarly aged 2-3 years, and bottled at 46% ABV.

Nose: Light smoke, with some sweet peat. Some lighter fruits, like pear and apple, and citrus. Vanilla and caramel. Pleasant enough, with no real off notes.

Palate: More peat shows up on palate, sweetened by the vanilla and caramel. Light smoke turns more to savory BBQ mesquite now. Actually makes you kind of hungry for BBQ ribs.  A bit nutty. Don’t add water, as it lightens and dulls it immediately.

Finish: Medium. Peat is earthier on the way out, with some iodine notes and tongue tingle. Some fruit returning at the end as well.

A blend with a bit of Springbank comes to mind, as it has that sweet peat characteristic that turns toward iodine over time.  I would personally put this at least on par with the American Oak for its overall character and quality. My only complaint is that it is very lightly peated – it may benefit when the domestic Westland peated malt comes online.


Westland Winter 2016 (Special Release)

I also had the option to try one of their special releases, and opted to go for this one (sadly, Garryana 2016 was already sold out). The Winter edition is a blend of nine casks – mainly ex-bourbon, one sherry ex-Oloroso hogshead (filled with peated malt), and an ex-Westland cask. The resulting grain bill is a bit different, coming out as 65% Washington Select Pale Malt, 14% standard 5-Malt, and 21% Baird’s Heavily Peated Malt. Aged just under 3 years, and bottled at a higher 50% ABV.

Nose: Similar light peatiness as the standard Westland Peated expression. Seems a bit less smokey – but that may be because the sherry notes are dominating.  I get apple and raisins.  Promising, but I’d like to see a bit more character here.

Palate: Sweeter on the palate again, with some syrupy notes (just as I found on the Sherry Wood). Smoke stays in the background, and never really crystallizes into a defined presence, unfortunately. A bit watery in texture for 50% ABV, with no real burn. Was hoping for a more chewy texture.

Finish: Medium short-ish.  It seems like both the peat and sherry are diluted here, and I’m still not getting much of the base spirit complexity.

This vatting doesn’t really seem to add anything to the standard Sherry Wood and Peated expressions – in essence, it tastes like a combination of them.  And like in the Sherry Wood, the sherry seems to be diminishing the base spirit rather than enhancing it.  So I would personally have to give this a slightly lower score than the standard Peated (but still better than the regular Sherry Wood).


WestlandI was impressed with these early offerings from Westland, and to look forward to what is coming next. The base American Single Malt has an interesting malted barley mashbill, with above-average character.

It will be particularly interesting to see how their domestic peat experiment turns out.  Aged in some of their native Garry oak barrels, this could indeed be a very distinctive American single malt.

For reviews of the Westland single malts in general, you could check out the guys at Quebec Whisky, or the reviewers of Whiskey Reviewer and Whiskey Wash. Typically lower scoring are the reviewers of Whisky Advocate.

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