Tag Archives: 18yo

Springbank 18 Year Old

As mentioned in my recent review of the entry-level Springbank 10 year old, this Campbeltown distiller still performs the entire production process – from malting through to bottling – on site. They release lightly-peated offerings under the Springbank label, and also produce heavily-peated malt whisky (as Longrow), and peat-free malt whisky (as Hazelburn).

The Springbank 18 year old is a popular expression among enthusiasts, having a garnered a number of awards. My sample is from the second batch, and is courtesy of the redditor xile_. It has a bit of everything in it – the classic briny Springbank character, a bit of smoke, and a bit of sherry.  Bottled at a refreshing 46% ABV, Springbank doesn’t use coloring (or chill-filtering).

Here is how it compares to the other Springbank single malts in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Hazelburn 8yo: 8.39 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Hazelburn 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.25 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow Peated: 8.82 ± 0.19 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Longrow 10yo: 8.57 ± 0.42 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow 18yo: 9.17 ± 0.22 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.69 ± 0.25 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 12yo Cask Strength: 8.84 ± 0.28 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 18yo: 8.96 ± 0.19 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)

And here is how it compares to some other whiskies of similar age and style (although most below are more heavily peated):

Ardbeg 17yo: 9.04 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Bunnahabhain 18yo: 8.99 ± 0.17 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Caol Ila 18yo: 8.66 ± 0.51 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.11 ± 0.25 on 22 reviews ($$$$$)
Lagavulin 16yo: 9.23 ± 0.23 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig 18yo: 9.03 ± 0.27 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Longrow 18yo: 9.17 ± 0.22 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Oban 18yo: 8.70 ± 0.22 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 18yo: 8.96 ± 0.19 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)
Talisker 18yo: 9.20 ± 0.20 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

Springbank 18 yo gets a very respectable score for a lightly-peated whisky (recall that heavily-peated whiskies invariably score higher in my database).

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet fruit compote, with tons of berries (blueberry, strawberry, raspberry), plums, rhubarb, raisins, and even some banana oddly enough.  Vanilla and toffee. Much less peat than the 10 yo, but still a bit of smoke.  Has the classic briny Springbank character, with a bit of pepper now. Rich, like creamed wheat. Very nice.

Palate:  Vanilla and toffee dominate, with fruits taking a back seat (although some red currants coming through now). Salty. Good peppery kick, with black licorice (anise) and some extra chilli spices thrown in. Cereal notes coming up now too. Very oily mouthfeel, rich and decadent.  A bit of tongue tingle builds. Faintest hint of smoke.

Springbank.18Finish: Long.  Salty, briny sea air with new notes of sweet chocolate showing up now. None of the bitterness or artificial sweetener I noticed on the 10 yo. Lingering spice. Just the right mix for my palate.

I tend to think of this Scotch as a slightly saltier and smokier version of my favourite Bunnahabhain 18 yo. Not quite as overtly sherried perhaps, but still a relatively sweet dessert dram.

While the Springbank 18 shows a relatively low standard deviation, opinions on this whisky can still vary. A particular point to keep in mind is that individuals differ in their ability to detect trace amounts of sulphur and other (typically) averse aromas and flavours. I discussed the genetics of this briefly in my Mortlach Rare Old review. For further discussion related to this particular sample, check out my comments in xile_’s review of the same bottle on the reddit whisky network.

As a general rule, if you are someone who is sensitive to bitter/sulphur notes, try a splash of water – that typically helps.

The highest praise I’ve seen for this whisky is from the Reddit whisky network, followed by the guys at Quebec Whisky, Oliver of Pour Me Another One, Ralfy, and Michael of Diving for Pearls. Although I have yet to see a truly negative review, more moderately positive examples come from Thomas of Whisky Saga, John of Whisky Advocate, and Jim Murray.

 

 

Highland Park 18 Year Old

Located on the Orkney islands, Highland Park is distinctive for being the most northerly whisky distillery in Scotland. But what truly makes it stand out is the taste – all Highland Park expressions show an unusual combination of native peat and sherry cask aging.

Referring back to my modern Flavour Map page, you will see that the highly complex whiskies (“rich” tasting” bifurcate into either heavily “winey” or heavily “smokey” flavours.  Highland Park is distinctive as it is actually somewhat in the middle of the winey-smokey scale, but still with a rich range of flavours (i.e., top of cluster C on the chart).

Support for this distillery among Scotch single malt drinkers is very high. When asked what would you choose if you could only have one bottle of Scotch, I have heard a couple of people answer immediately: Highland Park 18. One enthusiast even told me she married her husband because this was the one scotch he stocked in his liquor cabinet (presumably this wasn’t the only reason). 😉

It is not exactly cheap, mind you – the standard 750mL, 43% ABV bottle goes for $200 CAD at the LCBO.  Here is how it compares to some similarly aged expressions in my Meta-Critic whisky database:

Bowmore 18yo: 8.51 ± 0.54 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain 18yo: 9.01 ± 0.17 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Caol Ila 18yo: 8.67 ± 0.51 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenlivet 18yo: 8.58 ± 0.19 on 19 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.12 ± 0.24 on 22 reviews ($$$$$)
Lagavulin 16yo: 9.25 ± 0.23 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow 18yo: 9.18 ± 0.23 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Oban 18yo: 8.71 ± 0.21 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 18yo: 8.96 ± 0.19 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Talisker 18yo: 9.20 ± 0.20 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

A very respectable ranking, coming in just below the smokier Longrow 18, Talisker 18 and Lagavulin 16.

Here is how it compares to some of the other common HP expressions:

Highland Park 10yo: 8.49 ± 0.30 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo: 8.66 ± 0.22 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 17yo Ice: 8.87 ± 0.21 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.12 ± 0.24 on 22 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 21yo: 8.86 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 25yo: 9.17 ± 0.25 on 13 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 30yo: 9.02 ± 0.40 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park Dark Origins 8.49: ± 0.47 on 16 reviews ($$$$)

The HP 18 gets the second highest score I’ve seen for this distillery – despite being a lot less expensive than the higher-end line of Highland Parks.

I have had this scotch on a number of occasions. For this review, I sampled it from my brother’s bottle. Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Moist earthy peat. A fair amount of fruit, with lighter summer fruits like peaches and plums plus the typical sherry raisins and figs. Citrusy, with definite lemon. A touch of brine. Doughy bread being baked on a campfire. Very nice.

Palate: The smoke asserts itself now, but the sherried sweetness still takes you home. Same lighter fruits as the nose, but also sweet sultanas now. Some darker berries too, like raspberry and blackberry. Salted caramel, with brown sugar and a touch of nutmeg. Sweet black licorice. Has a decent mouthfeel for a 43% ABV scotch (I would normally find this strength to be watery). Great experience – none of the bitterness I noticed on the 12yo.

Finish: Very long, and smokey to the end. Pleasant light sweetness initially, but not very fruity. Has a clarity about it, with great balance. Leaves you with some mouth puckering astringency.

Highland.Park.18

I can understand why some would see this as the quintessential scotch for your liquor cabinet – there is something for everyone here.  There’s really no negative that I can find, it all just works well together. That said, I can see why some would prefer more of the extremes (i.e., a sherry bomb or a smoke monster). But for those wanting to walk the line in-between, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Among the highest ratings I’ve seen for this whisky are Gavin of Whisky Advocate, Jason of Whisky Won, Oliver of Dramming, and Ralfy. Also quite positive (but more typical of the average score) are Serge of Whisky Fun, My Annoying Opinions, and Nathan the Scotchnoob. What can I say, it is very highly recommend by all.

 

 

Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old

As mentioned in my recent Bunnahabhain 12 year old review, this Islay distillery is distinctive for not using peat in its core line of whiskies. The age-statement expressions of Bunnahabhain are thus more easily comparable to many of the whiskies from the classic mainland regions of Scotland.

Impressively, all these single malt expressions lack artificial caramel colouring, are non-chill-filtered, and are bottled at a relatively high 46.3% ABV. These choices speak well to the quality focus of the distillery.  As with the 12 yo, this expression is matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks (although the exact proportions are again unknown).

Here is how the Bunna 18 yo compares to similarly-aged expressions in my Meta-Critic database:

Aberlour 18yo: 8.74 ± 0.27 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain 12yo: 8.57 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain 18yo: 9.01 ± 0.17 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Bunnahabhain 25yo: ± 8.85 0.38 on 13 reviews ($$$$$+)
Caol Ila 18yo: 8.67 ± 0.51 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach 18yo Allardice: 8.71 ± 0.40 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenfiddich 18yo: 8.57 ± 0.41 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenlivet 18yo: 8.58 ± 0.19 on 19 reviews ($$$$$)
Glengoyne 18yo: 8.56 ± 0.41 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.12 ± 0.25 on 22 reviews ($$$$$)
Oban 18yo: 8.71 ± 0.21 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 18yo Fine Oak: 8.80 ± 0.32 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 18yo: 8.96 ± 0.19 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Tomatin 18yo: 8.64 ± 0.21 on 8 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see above, it receives the highest score for an unpeated single malt of this age. The 18 yo even scores higher than the 25 yo “bunny”.

I was so impressed on sampling this expression that I quickly went out and bought a full bottle for myself (despite the rather steep $180 CAD price tag at the LCBO).  Here is what I notice in the glass:

Colour: while I don’t normally comment on this (since it can be manipulated), I note that the 18yo is a much richer reddish/brown colour than the 12 yo expression. It clearly shows some extend time in sherry casks (or a higher proportion of sherry casks in the mix).

Nose: Classic sherry notes, with chocolate, raisins, figs and grapes. Has a honeyed sweetness, with some additional plum and apple. Salted caramel, a bit nutty, and with a faint hint of glue (which is oddly not objectionable). All in all, this whisky produces a mouth-watering effect that I typically associate with lightly smokey whiskies that were well-aged in sherry casks. This one is particularly nice, as it seems very rich and creamy (if that is possible to tell by smell).

Palate: All the aromas from the nose are found again on the palate. While not a sherry-bomb, there are a clearly lot of quality casks blended in here – I get rich, creamy cocoa, and a surprising amount of dark fruit. More caramel now too. Malted nuts. Something intriguing, in the way of a light coastal whisky, but with no real smoke or peat (more spicy?). Certainly, a touch of sweet baking spices, like nutmeg and allspice.  Happily, it has none of the bitterness that marred the 12 yo for me somewhat.  An oily and slightly syrupy mouthfeel, very pleasant to swish around the gums. Doesn’t really need any water – very drinkable at its native 46.3% ABV.

Finish: Fairly long, with dried fruits leading the way. A faint, warming allspice contributes as well. There is a slightly salty/briny residue in the end (which pairs well).

Bunnahabhain.18No trouble draining a glass here – a very pleasant whisky, with nothing significant to criticize. Certainly better than most unpreated malts of comparable age that I’ve tried. This one is very close to my favourite “relaxing for the evening” profile, with a hint of salty spice below a bed of fruit and chocolate.

Personally, the 18 yo is well worth the upgrade from the 12 yo expression for me. While many of the core flavours are similar, the quality proposition is high enough here to justify the price bump (again, for me). There is likely more than just extended aging going on – I’m fairly confident they are using a higher quality cask mix here (especially for the sherried component). I’m looking forward to serving this to fans of comparably-aged Glenlivet and Glenfiddich – I’m sure it it will surprise them.

As you can tell from the high average Meta-Critic score – and low standard deviation – reviewers are consistently positive for this expression. For representative reviews, I recommend you check out the guys at Quebec Whisky, Ruben of Whisky Notes, Ralfy, and My Annoying Opinions.

 

Gibson’s Finest 18 Year Old

Gibson's Venerable 18yo bottle

Gibson’s whisky has a long history in Canada, with production having passed through several producers and distilleries over the years. Through it all, the 18 year old expression has remained the top of their line. It currently holds the distinction as the highest ranked Canadian whisky in my Whisky Database (for the “Finest Rare” 18 yr): 9.12 ± 0.41, on 8 reviews.

The latest bottlings at the LCBO have a “Finest Venerable” subtitle. Although I think “rare” still applies – I received this bottle as a Father’s Day present, and I know it took some driving around by my family to find a LCBO that stocked it (it was on my list of wanted whiskies). 😉

That subjective impression is borne out in my recently posted analysis of LCBO inventories. Looking at the data table in that post (compiled from the LCBO iPad/iPhone app), you will see that there are only ~650 bottles of the 18yr available in all of Ontario right now. Compare that to >42,000 bottles of the base Gibson’s 12 yr and Sterling expressions. And most of those 12yo/Sterling bottles are the larger 1140 and 1750mL sizes. So if you do a comparison by volume, only 1.1% of Gibson’s whiskies available in Ontario right now are this top-shelf 18 yr.

In case you are wondering, I agree with the consensus wisdom in the Meta-Critic score – this is an outstanding Canadian whisky!

Nose: Very creamy sensation from the start, with oaky caramel, butterscotch and vanilla aromas that seem more like creme caramel in this case. “Yellow-flesh” fruits come to mind: plum, pear and pineapple especially (I admit that last one seems a bit weird). Something slightly nutty. like crushed peanuts. Nice nose.

Palate: Much the same flavours as found on the nose, with even more butterscotch up front. Luxurious creamy mouthfeel. Rye “baking spices” start to come out now (nutmeg, cinnamon, touch of cloves), but not as strongly as most quality Canadian blends. I’d swear there a bit of wheat sweetness in this blend – definite bread-making flavours come out, in addition to the rye. A bit of bourbon sweetness throughout. Finally, a touch of bitterness comes in at the end, but doesn’t seem out of place or glaring (like it does in cheap blends)

Finish: Still sweet up front – although more focused on those bread baking characteristics than any of the fruits. Still relatively creamy, it moves more toward a slight bitterness over time (although well balanced with the sweetness). Not hard to handle at all.

As I describe in recommendations for hosting a whisky tasting, I always suggest people ignore their taste impressions on the first sip (to allow your palate a chance to cleanse and recover from the initial alcohol burn). But this is an example of that rare whisky where I knew I was in for a treat from the first few seconds – a nice compilation of aromas and flavours.

Gibson's Venerable 18yo bottleI guess the only question now is who do I give that old bottle of Gibson’s 12 year old to – the one that has been sitting in my cabinet barely touched for awhile? As an aside, the 12yr is a decent budget whisky for the price, but it’s really best suited to mixed drinks.

One thing for Gibson’s – and this is a plus or minus, depending on your point of view – they have very plain packaging. The 18 year old doesn’t come with a box, just the bare bottle is sold off the shelf. And some of the “decoration” around the top is just part of the security packaging (i.e., comes right off when you open it). So while it may not make for the prettiest gift package – your recipient is likely to thank you once they sample it!

For a recent review of this whisky, you can see Jason Hambrey’s Whisky Won review here, or check out the main list of reviewers used in this meta-analysis.