Tag Archives: NAS

Macallan Select Oak

Global Travel Retail (aka the chains of Duty Free shops found in airports) is an interesting place for whiskies. Although many established bottlings by known producers can be on offer (at good prices), these shops are increasingly full of no-age-statement (NAS) specialty bottlings available exclusively at duty-free.

Sometimes this can be to “try out” a new expression within a limited (yet global) market, to see if has potential for general appeal. More often than not though, these duty-free exclusives are a dumping ground for sub-standard whisky sold at inflated prices – trading on their established brand names. While I only track some of the most common Duty Free bottlings, I recommend you check out my Meta-Critic Whisky Database for anything you might be interested in trying.

Macallan Select Oak is an example of an inexpensive NAS bottling of Macallan, sold exclusively through duty-free (although I have come across it in a few specialty shops as well). It is sold as a member of the relatively inexpensive “1824” series of Macallan NAS bottlings.  It is aged in a combination of American oak previously holding either sherry or bourbon, and first-fill European oak sherry casks (supposedly a high percentage of the latter). Bottled at 40% ABV. Sold in 1L bottles, it typically retails for ~$90 CAD.

Let’s see how it does against other Macallans in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Macallan 10yo Fine Oak: 8.26 ± 0.30 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Macallan 10yo Sherry Oak: 8.42 ± 0.31 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Macallan 12yo Double Cask: 8.48 ± 0.39 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Macallan 1824 Amber: 8.30 ± 0.36 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Macallan 1824 Gold: 8.24 ± 0.28 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Macallan 1824 Rare Cask: 8.70 ± 0.40 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan 1824 Ruby: 8.76 ± 0.21 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 1824 Select Oak: 8.26 ± 0.34 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Macallan 1824 Sienna: 8.71 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Edition No. 1: 8.83 ± 0.53 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Edition No. 2: 8.88 ± 0.20 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Edition No. 3: 9.04 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition: 8.54 ± 0.35 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

As expected, this is one of the lowest scores I’ve seen for a Macallan – on par with the entry-level Gold and 10yo Fine Oak expressions.

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Light but pleasant. Brown sugar and caramel (a fair amount of the latter). Golden raisins. Some dark fruit compote. Vaguely candied. You can detect the sherry presence, but it is fairly subdued overall. No oak spices that I can detect, but maybe a touch of ginger. Not very complex at all. No off notes, surprisingly.

Palate: Vanilla. Lighter fruits, apple and pear, show up now. Orange peels. Less overt sherry influence than the nose suggested. Definitely nutty in the mouth, which I wasn’t getting on the nose. Light oak spice shows up now, maybe nutmeg, plus a touch of ginger. Has a watery mouthfeel, but still with some ethanol sting – likely reflecting a young age. Dull and flat, to be honest.

Finish:‎ Medium-short. Oaky bitterness builds, along with some glue. Pepper. Not pleasant, but not overly offensive. Still, this lingering bitterness is not good. Frankly, I would want it even shorter if this is all you are going to get.

If it weren’t for finish, this would probably get a slightly below average score from me (and thus be a decent buy for the price). But personally, I find the Meta-Critic score a bit generous, and would rank this a notch below Gold or 10yo Fine Oak. All told, there are any number of inexpensive blends and malts that I would recommend over this for the price.

The highest score I’ve seen for this whisky comes from Jan of Best Shot Whisky, who gives it an above average score. This is followed by cake_my_day and MajorHop on Reddit, who give it an overall average score. The guys at Quebec whisky, John of Whisky Advocate, and xile_ on Reddit are moderately supportive – but all give it a slightly below average score. Less enthused are Jim Murray, Serge of Whisky Fun, and TOModera of Reddit who give a very low score (as I would).

Scallywag Blended Malt

Scallywag is part of the Remarkable Regional Malts series by Douglas Laing, an independent bottler of Scottish malt whisky.

In operation since 1948, Douglas Laing has the typical extensive catalogue of individual single malt bottlings. But the company is perhaps better known for their range of blended malt (vatted malt) whiskies, based on defined regions of Scotland. Produced in small batches, these have colourful labels and quirky names, including Scallywag, Timorous Beastie, Rock Oyster, The Epicurean, and Big Peat.

In the case of Scallywag, this blended malt comes from several Speyside whiskies, including Mortlach, Macallan and Glenrothes. Supposedly, many of the whiskies used in this bottling were aged in Spanish sherry butts, along with standard ex-bourbon casks. The Scallywag name is apparently inspired by a long line of Douglas Laing family Fox Terriers. The label is adorned by a rather distinctive depiction of a Fox Terrier wearing a monocle.

Bottled at 46% ABV (which is always appreciated), this small batch whisky is non-chill-filtered, with natural colour.

Given this pedigree, I’ve been curious to try Scallywag for some time. I finally managed to pick up a 50mL mini bottle on a recent trip to Berlin (on sale for 7.10 euros at KaDeWe). And quite conveniently, it has recently become available at the LCBO for $74 CAD.  A good time for a review!

Here is how it compares to some other similarly-price vatted malts in my Meta-Critic Database:

Big Peat: 8.75 ± 0.24 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Big Peat Christmas Edition: 8.82 ± 0.14 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Compass Box Enlightenment: 8.81 ± 0.18 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Compass Box Oak Cross: 8.68 ± 0.33 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Compass Box Peat Monster (all editions): 8.76 ± 0.25 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Compass Box Spice Tree: 8.79 ± 0.31 on 23 reviews ($$$$)
Monkey Shoulder: 8.31 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$)
Nikka Pure Malt Black: 8.78 ± 0.21 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt Red: 8.53 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt White: 8.70 ± 0.32 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Pig’s Nose 5yo Blended Malt: 7.93 ± 0.41 on 3 reviews ($$)
Scallywag: 8.24 ± 0.56 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Scallywag 13yo: 8.87 ± 0.05 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Scallywag Cask Strength (all batches): 8.75 ± 0.07 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Sheep Dip Blended Malt: 8.45 ± 0.35 on 13 reviews ($$)
Sheep Dip Old Hebridean 1990 Blended Malt: 9.08 ± 0.18 on 6 reviews ($$$$)

Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: Light honey and caramel to start, followed by some brown sugar. Lightly fruity, with usual apple/pear, but also raisins. Can definitely detect the sherry cask component. Some lemon zing. Ethanol and an unusual off-note – not quite antiseptic, but close (glue?). A bit shy and restrained overall, but with some sharp alcohol fumes unfortunately.

Palate: Yowza, this is a hot one – the ethanol really kicks in here. Once you get past that assault, there is plenty of caramel and simple sugar. The ex-bourbon notes are probably the most prominent, with apple and pear. Frankly hard to find the sherry now. Wood spice with cloves and nutmeg, and a touch of pepper. In addition to the ethanol fumes, there is some oaky bitterness on the swallow. The bitterness lingers on the tongue, unfortunately. Seems somewhat grain dominated.

Finish: Medium short. Apple and cinnamon. Bitterness lingers the longest though. Falls a bit flat honestly.

As you can guess from above, I am not a fan. Given this is a small batch release, it’s possible that my sample is an anomaly. But I find my mini bottle to be way too grainy, too young, and too hot.

I wanted to get a second opinion from Mrs Selfbuilt – who was immediately annoyed with me for making her try it (she’s more a fan of aged blends, matured in exclusively in ex-bourbon casks). So that’s a double thumbs-down. I’d recommend Monkey Shoulder as a better example of this style, or just any of the non-peated Compass Box blended malts.

Among reviewers, the most positive I’ve seen are Andre and Martin of Quebec Whisky. Moderately positive are Thomas of Whisky Saga and TOModera of Reddit. But more typical scores some from Serge of Whisky Fun,  Ruben of Whisky Notes, and Jan of Best Shot Whisky. Personally, I’m more in line with Oliver of Dramming, and washeewashee and Shane_il of Reddit, who give it lower scores.

Grant’s 18 Year Old Blended

This is a limited release of an age-stated version of the Grant’s line of blended scotch whisky (not to be confused with Glen Grant single malts). Prior to this premium age-stated release, I’ve only had the entry-level Grant’s blend (known as “Grant’s Family Reserve”). Although I haven’t reviewed it, I found that no-age-statement (NAS) blend to be very basic, and would not recommended it.

So what drew me to buying this bottle? In my experience, age-stated blends are generally pretty decent, especially from William Grant and Sons (e.g., the Storas 21 yo). Grant’s 18 yo has been finished in Port casks, which typically brings in a fruity character that I quite like. It is reasonably priced at the LCBO ($80 CAD, bought on sale for $64). And I found another whisky enthusiast willing to take a gamble and split the bottle with me, thus further lowering my risk.

Grant’s 18 yo is bottled at the industry-standard 40% ABV. I presume it is chill-filtered and colouring has been added.

Here is how it compares in my Meta-Critic Database to some other blended scotch brands that also come with age-stated expressions:

Ballantine’s 17yo: 8.77 ± 0.32 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Ballantine’s Finest: 7.62 ± 0.61 on 12 reviews ($)
Catto’s 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.31 on 5 reviews ($$)
Catto’s Rare Old: 8.02 ± 0.67 on 5 reviews ($)
Chivas Regal 12yo: 7.79 ± 0.44 on 23 reviews ($$)
Chivas Regal 18yo: 8.23 ± 0.46 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Dewar’s 12yo: 7.94 ± 0.35 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s White Label: 7.52 ± 0.71 on 14 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse Gold Reserve 12yo: 8.47 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse: 7.65 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($)
Grant’s 12yo: 8.47 ± 0.42 on 5 reviews ($$)
Grant’s 18yo: 8.71 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Grant’s Blended Sherry Cask: 8.00 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($)
Grant’s Family Reserve Blended: 7.69 ± 0.66 on 14 reviews ($)
Hankey Bannister 12yo Regency: 8.65 ± 0.24 on 7 reviews ($$)
Hankey Bannister 21yo Partner’s Reserve: 8.55 ± 0.43 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Hankey Bannister Original: 7.87 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker 12yo Black Label: 8.26 ± 0.47 on 24 reviews ($$)
Johnnie Walker Blue Label: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)
Johnnie Walker Green Label: 8.53 ± 0.35 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Storas 21yo Rare Cask Reserves Blended: 8.69 ± 0.11 on 4 reviews ($$$)

As you can see, that’s a top score for an age-stated blended scotch. Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Fairly rich and complex nose, likely owing to the Port finishing. Honey and brown sugar. Caramel. A base of apple and pear juice, with figs and raisins. Some red berries (and red grapes). Lemon citrus. Nutty, which I like. A slight bit of funk, which adds to character. A bit spirity, but no real solvent off-notes – definitely shows its extended age.

Palate: Tons of honey and caramel to start, very sweet. Vanilla. Fruity, with dried red fruits prominent. Figs again, and the standard apples and pear. Toasted almonds. Malty, which is nice for a blend (i.e., not particularly grainy). Very light wood spice, nutmeg mainly. No burn. Pleasant to hold in the mouth. ‎Turns slightly bitter on the swallow. Still, this is one for those with a sweet tooth. Wish it was higher proof, as it has a rather watery mouthfeel (as expected).

Finish:‎ Medium-short. Lemon zest. Chocolate-covered almonds. A winey Port finish on the fade out, with a bit of oaky bitterness. Some mouth puckering astringency. Not bad for a blend, but a longer finish would be nice.

A good integration of malt and grain whiskies – heavier on the malt, it seems to me. Certainly higher quality than regular NAS blends‎.

I like a nice Port finish on a fairly simple base whisky, like Pike Creek 10yo and Kavalan Concertmaster.‎ This Grant’s 18yo reminds me more of the later, although sweeter in this case. And a lot cheaper around here, too. Higher proof would have been great, along with a longer lasting finish, but a good blend for what it is. I think the Meta-Critic average score is fair.

Lawrence of Malt Maniacs gives it a very high score, as does Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. Ruben of Whisky Notes and Dominic of Whisky Advocate both give it a below average score (but positive reviews). The lowest score comes from Oliver of Dramming.

Macallan Edition No. 2

Macallan Edition is an annual limited series. Each year, Macallan releases a new Edition that is based on a unique selection of oak cask styles for that year’s release. As an extra wrinkle, each year is to be a co-creation with different partners.

Edition No. 2 was released in 2017, and the new no. 3 is just coming out now (so I figured I better get this review out while you can still grab a bottle if you want). Edition No. 2 is a collaboration between Macallan Master Whisky Maker Bob Dalgarno and the three Roca brothers, co-founders of El Celler de Can Roca, apparently one of the top named restaurants in the world.

Edition No. 2 is based on seven oak cask types (both European and American oak) from four different bodegas.

Bottled at 48.2% ABV, it is currently still available at the LCBO for $175 CAD. My sample came from Redditor 89Justin.

Let’s see how it does in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Macallan 12yo Double Cask: 8.48 ± 0.39 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Macallan 12yo Fine Oak: 8.46 ± 0.40 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Macallan 15yo Fine Oak: 8.44 ± 0.51 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 17yo Fine Oak: 8.78 ± 0.50 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 18yo Fine Oak: 8.72 ± 0.26 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 21yo Fine Oak: 8.51 ± 0.40 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan 1824 Amber: 8.30 ± 0.36 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Macallan 1824 Gold: 8.24 ± 0.28 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Macallan 1824 Rare Cask: 8.70 ± 0.40 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan 1824 Ruby: 8.76 ± 0.21 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 1824 Sienna: 8.71 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Cask Strength: 8.93 ± 0.35 on 16 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan Edition No. 1: 8.83 ± 0.52 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Edition No. 2: 8.87 ± 0.20 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Select Oak: 8.28 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition: 8.53 ± 0.36 on 13 reviews ($$$$)

While not exactly cheap at $175 CAD, this is one the few releases of Macallan in recent years where I have not heard too many grumblings of the price relative to quality.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Delicious rich dark chocolate and creamy caramel, a great start. Fresh raisins and figs, with dried apple and pear. Brown sugar. Nutty and earthy, maybe some ginger. Definitely an unusual cask influence at work – there is something spicy here, more than typical barrel spice (chilies?). Vaguely solventy, almost sour, but that seems to go with the earthy component. Not your typical Macallan, this is a distinctive and complex nose.

Palate: The sweetness simplifies initially (i.e., white sugar), and the fruits turn more candied, with more prominent apple and pear. Citrus picks up now too (orange peel). Cinnamon. The earthiness seems to have lightened, leaving a very clean palate – with just a hint of something vegetal lurking in the background. Also very drinkable at the 48.2% ABV. It is almost watery in fact. Definitely not quite as complex as the nose, but pleasant. Some brown sugar comes back on the swallow.

Finish: Medium long. The spice comes back, a particularly oaky spice. Still very clean, with the simple candied fruitiness from the palate lasting a fairly long time.

With water, you get a simpler nose – raisin fruitiness is increased, earthiness decreased. Sweeter in mouth as well. Doesn’t need it in my view.

Simpler than I expected, especially on the way out. But it has none of that typical youthful harshness of most NAS expressions. This is probably a good choice for those who like unusual casks expressions (e.g., fans of independent bottlers).  It is also not at all your typical Macallan profile, thanks to the wider wood influence.

At the end of the day, I can’t help but think that this would have been spectacular had it been aged for longer. I think the Meta-Critic average score is reasonable.

The guys at Quebec Whisky are big fans of this edition, as are Serge of Whisky Fun, Ruben of Whisky Notes, and Emma of Whiskey Reviewer. On Reddit, Devoz, Ethanized, throwboats, xile_ and MajorHop all love this edition. muaddi99 is a little less enthusiastic. cjotto9 and Sinjun86, as well as Beppi Crossariol of the Globe & Mail, give it an average score. I’ve not actually seen a negative review of this whisky, among my reviewer set.

Tullamore Dew Irish Blended

This is a review of the entry-level Tullamore Dew Original, a no-age-statement (NAS) blended Irish whisky – and one of the best selling Irish whiskies in the world.

Originally produced in Tullamore, County Offaly, Ireland, the Tullamore distillery was established in the early 19th century. The name of this brand eventually changed to  Tullamore D.E.W. – the latter part derived from the initials of Daniel E. Williams, a general manager and later owner of the distillery. The distillery was closed down in the mid-20th century, and remaining stocks were transferred to Powers & Son – which was eventually merged with Midleton in the great Irish whisky consolidation of the 1970s.

In 2010, the brand was purchased from Midleton by William Grant & Sons, the largest independent distiller of whisky in Scotland (who own a number of global whisky brands). They constructed a new distillery on the outskirts of Tullamore, bringing production back to this region after a hiatus of more than half a century.

According to Wikipedia, it is currently the second largest selling brand of Irish whisky in the world, with nearly a million cases per annum in 2015.

I’m generally a fan of Irish whisky, especially the higher end Midleton offerings such as Redbreast 21yo and Powers John’s Lane 12yo. I’m less impressed with most entry level bottlings, like standard Bushmills and Jameson. So when I came across this in an airport business lounge, I thought I’d give it a try.

This entry-level Irish whisky is bottled at 40% ABV. It is reported to be blend of triple-distilled pot still, malt, and grain whiskies, matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and sherry casks.

Let’s see how it fares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Bushmills Original Blended: 7.67 ± 0.45 on 17 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.38 ± 0.38 on 22 reviews ($$)
Jameson Irish Whiskey: 7.82 ± 0.47 on 21 reviews ($$)
Powers Gold Label: 8.00 ± 0.51 on 11 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Original Clan Irish Whiskey: 8.14 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$)
The Quiet Man Traditional Irish Whiskey: 7.56 ± 1.05 on 7 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.84 ± 0.36 on 19 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew 10yo Single Malt: 8.03 ± 0.78 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Tullamore Dew Blended 12yo: 7.98 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$)
West Cork Original Irish Whiskey: 8.01 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$)
Writers Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey: 8.49 ± 0.32 on 19 reviews ($$)

Now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with tons of honeysuckle. Also lots of green apple and pear, green banana plus a bit of honeydew melon. Orange peels. Caramel, but you have search for it. Slightly floral. A bit of an artificial sweetener note – plus acetone – which detracts. But overall a decent nose for an entry-level Irish blend.

Palate: Honey, with a bit of caramel to start. Light vanilla. Nutmeg and some cinnamon show up next. Not as fruity as the nose suggested. Some malt, adding character. Very light, with little mouthfeel (maybe a touch oily). Some minor tongue tingle. Disappears fast after swallowing.

Finish:‎ Short. A slight bitterness picks up quickly, but fortunately doesn’t get too bad. Green apple returns. Spiciness lingers, maybe with a bit of black pepper now. A bit of mouth puckering astringency.

While nothing to write home about, I would rank this at the higher end of the entry-level Irish blends I’ve tried (on par with the higher-ranked Powers Gold). A definite notch above standard Jameson, as the notes are better defined (especially the pot still-derived “green” notes). Good choice for an entry-level Irish whisky.

No one ranks this whisky particularly highly, but the most favourable reviews are from Jim Murray, Michael of Diving for Pearls, Josh the Whiskey Jug and the guys at Quebec Whisky. I’m more in-line with Jason of In Search of Elegance, Ralfy and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. Some of the lowest scores come from Serge of Whisky Fun, Chip the Rum Howler and Jan of Best Shot Whisky.

Hibiki Harmony Master’s Select

Hibiki Harmony Master’s Select is a duty-free (aka “global travel retail”) special release of Hibiki Harmony blended whisky. Unlike some Japanese special-edition “travel exclusives” – which are simply re-labelled and marked-up versions of standard bottlings – Master’s Select is actually a different blend than the regular Harmony.

Master’s Select is reported to be a blend of 10 different Japanese malt and grain whiskies from Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita distilleries, aged in 5 different types of casks, including American white oak casks, sherry casks and Mizunara oak casks. The stronger woody character – and use of Yamazaki sherry casks in particular – are emphasized in Suntory promotional materials, in an apparent effort to increase the cachet of Hibiki Master’s Select. As with regular Harmony, there is no age statement, and it is bottled at 43% ABV.

I bought a bottle in early 2016, but only opened it recently. I paid a little over $100 CAD at the time (on sale), which was about the same price as regular Harmony here in Canada. I have always been a big fan of the older Hibiki age-statement expressions (especially the Hibiki 17yo), and am relatively positive on the no-age-statement Harmony expression – although it doesn’t fare as well among most reviewers. So I was curious to see how this Master’s Select version of Harmony would compare.

Here are how the Hibiki whiskies compare to other entry-level Japanese whiskies in my Metacritic Databae:

Hibiki 12yo: 8.61 ± 0.25 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Hibiki 17yo: 8.77 ± 0.32 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Hibiki Harmony: 8.36 ± 0.54 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Hibiki Harmony Master’s Select: 8.19 ± 0.74 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries: 8.64 ± 0.23 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Ichiro’s Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR): 8.20 ± 0.46 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Mars Iwai Tradition: 7.69 ± 1.03 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mars Maltage Cosmo: 8.56 ± 0.27 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka All Malt: 8.44 ± 0.18 on 8 reviews ($$)
Nikka Coffey Grain: 8.48 ± 0.52 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Coffey Malt: 8.77 ± 0.42 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka From the Barrel: 8.82 ± 0.36 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt Black: 8.78 ± 0.21 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt Red: 8.53 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt White: 8.70 ± 0.32 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Suntory The Chita Single Grain: 8.36 ± 0.39 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Suntory Toki: 8.24 ± 0.45 on 10 reviews ($$$)
White Oak Akashi Blended: 7.60 ± 0.67 on 8 reviews ($$$)
White Oak Akashi Single Malt (NAS): 7.94 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Similar to regular Harmony, but with more dry oakiness up front. Not particularly fruity, but I do get light pears, plums, bananas and orange rind (plus some lemon curd). Floral, with some sort of fruit blossom. Lots of vanilla, as before – perhaps even more so. Toasted coconut, which is new. Wood spice. A slightly funky note, vaguely vegetal, which I don’t recall on standard Harmony. Definitely a bit more character here, but not all of it good. Also more acetone, which detracts for me.

Palate: Similar opening waves of vanilla and honey, with the arrival of prominent caramel now. Stronger orange citrus taste now than before. Dark chocolate (with that classic bitterness). Cinnamon and nutmeg. Something vaguely earthy, but I can’t quite place it (ginger? not quite). Simply put, it seems like a more heavily-oaked version of Harmony, especially with that lingering bitterness – which builds on each sip, unfortunately. Less of the delicate perfumy/incense notes than the regular Harmony (but they may be drowned out by the earthy wood tones). Decent mouthfeel, slightly silky in texture.

Finish: Short, but longer than regular Harmony. Nutmeg. Bitter apple. That ginger-like note from the palate is prominent, with a vague wet cardboard note. The oaky bitterness lingers the longest – rather unpleasant, frankly. Again, the complexity is up a bit, but this is the most disappointing part of the experience.

This “master’s select” version of the NAS Hibiki is no match for the age statement versions of old. It lacks the traditional subtlety of Hibiki, and seems to have gone for a flavour-shortcut, by exposing a younger blend to heavier wood influence.

If you like an earthy, oaky structure in your whisky (i.e. virgin wood), then this might be a blend for you.  But for most casual whisky drinkers, I expect standard Harmony would be preferred. For me, some of the more delicate characteristics of Harmony are lost here, and too much oaky bitterness has been added.

There are few reviews of this whisky, but Dramtastic gave it a positive review with an average score (compared to a very low score for standard Harmony). On Reddit, _xile also gave it an average score (and greatly preferred it over standard Harmony).  Josh the Whiskey Jug get it a slightly lower assessment than Harmony, and muaddib99 of Reddit gave it a much lower score than standard Harmony.

I’m in this latter camp, and give this a lower score than Harmony. That said, I think the Meta-Critic average scores are a little low for both NAS Hibiki expressions. In choosing between them, it really comes done to how much you like a woody presence in your whisky. But I recommend you start with standard Harmony – or the age-statement versions of course, if you can find them.

Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt

Monkey Shoulder is a great example of one of the (not so) best kept secrets in the whisky world. As I explain on my single malts vs blends page, a single malt simply means a blend (or vatting) of different malts whiskies from a single distillery. Unless it is specifically identified as a “single cask”, you are definitely getting multiple barrels mixed together for your single malt.  A blended scotch is defined as a blend of malt whisky and cheaper-to-produce grain whisky. But there is the intermediate category called a blended malt (or previously “pure malt”) where malt whisky from multiple distilleries are brought together.

In principle, there’s no reason why a blended malt would not be every bit as good as a single malt, since it is only the number of distilleries that differ. But just as blended scotches have long occupied the entry-level price point, most blended malts are similarly inexpensive and without age statements – although there are of course always exceptions (i.e., see the Taketsuru line of Japanese malt whiskies).

Monkey Shoulder is a commonly available, reasonably priced, no-age-statement blended malt from three classic Speyside distilleries controlled by William Grant & Sons: Kininvie, Balvenie, and Glenfiddich. You may not have heard of the first one (since most of its malt production goes into blended scotches), but the other two should be familiar to single malt drinkers – and will give you an idea as to what flavour profile to expect here. In this case, I believe the blend is exclusively from first-fill ex-bourbon casks, but there are of course no guarantees if that isn’t indicated on the label.

In case you are wondering about the unusual name, it comes from a historic occupational strain injury that floor malters suffered from in the early years of whisky production. In the traditional method, malting of barley would be done across a large floor (for the extended surface area). This required constant turning of the barley, so that it didn’t over-germinate into a solid mass – a task traditionally done by hand. “Monkey Shoulder” is the crude name for the condition that some malt workers developed after long shifts, where one of their arms would hang down – similar to some monkeys. Obviously, this would no longer be permitted today.

Monkey Shoulder is very reasonably priced in most jurisdictions, typically around the level of higher-end blends or entry-level single malts. It is currently $65 CAD at the LCBO, which is steeper than most places. It is bottled at the industry standard 40% ABV.

Let’s see how it compares to other blended malt or entry-level single malt whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database.

Aberlour 10yo: 8.27 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$)
Arran Malt Robert Burns Single Malt 8.22: ± 0.56 on 8 reviews ($$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.28 ± 0.26 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan American Oak: 7.78 ± 0.85 on 8 reviews ($$)
Benromach Traditional: 8.43 ± 0.44 on 12 reviews ($$)
Glen Grant 10yo: 8.27 ± 0.46 on 9 reviews ($$)
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve: 7.96 ± 0.61 on 10 reviews ($$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.11 ± 0.22 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.30 on 22 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve: 7.97 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$)
McClelland’s Lowland: 7.02 ± 0.50 on 4 reviews ($$)
McClelland’s Speyside: 6.70 ± 0.43 on 6 reviews ($$)
Monkey Shoulder: 8.31 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$)
Pig’s Nose 5yo Blended Malt: 7.93 ± 0.40 on 3 reviews ($$)
Sheep Dip Blended Malt: 8.45 ± 0.35 on 13 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Dufftown 12yo: 7.87 ± 0.47 on 10 reviews ($$)
Speyburn 10yo: 8.10 ± 0.33 on 19 reviews ($$)
Speyside 12yo: 7.87 ± 0.63 on 10 reviews ($$)

Monkey Shoulder gets a decent score for this price point, consistent with the best entry-level single malts.

My sample came from Redditor 89Justin. Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: Fairly light, with dominant notes of caramelized baked apples. Green banana and a touch of citrus (orange). Golden raisins. Vanilla, nutmeg and a slight brown sugar note – all combining to give an evocative impression of baked apple pie. ‎Bit of acetone, suggestive of its youthful age. Pretty decent on the nose.

Palate: Some honey adds to the caramel notes from the nose. Not as fruity anymore, maybe a bit of light pear. Very lightly spiced. Malty. Unfortunately, I get a dusty, dry cardboard note (likely also from its youth). A slight bit of ethanol sting, but at least it adds some substance to the somewhat watery mouth feel.

Finish: Short, and relatively light.  A bit of the spice comes back, but it remains fairly dry and not a fruity as I had hoped. No real off notes though, except for a slight bitterness.

Definitely an entry level malt. Better than most scotch blends, but it seems to me like it would have benefited from a few more years in the casks. Given its first-fill ex-bourbon heritage, I expected a little more sweetness on the palate and finish. But I think the average Meta-Critic score above is fair.

Among reviewers, Nathan the Scotch Noob is a big fan, as are most of the guys at Quebec Whisky. Josh the Whiskey Jug gives it an average score. Most reviewers give it below average for the malt class, as you might expect – including Jason of In Search of Elegance, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, and Thomas of Whisky Saga, among others. Serge of Whisky Fun, Ruben of Whisky Notes and Jim Murray all give it very low scores.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed

Following up on my Wild Turkey 101 review, here is the true barrel-proof (cask-strength) member of this family – Wild Turkey Rare Breed.

First thing you will notice is that the proof of each batch varies a little bit, consistent with a true barrel proof product. It is also not that much higher than WT 101 – most Rare Breeds are in the 108-117 proof range (or ~54-58% ABV). The reason for this relatively low final strength is that WT enters the barrel at a lower proof than most of its competitors (in order to keep more of the base distillate character).

Wild Turkey uses a common mashbill for all its bourbons, which I would classify as a “standard rye bourbon” (R2), based on 13% rye in the mashbill. Rare Breed is reported to be a barrel-proof blend of 6, 8 and 12-year-old stocks (in contrast, regular WT 101 is believed to be the younger 6/8 year olds).

Rare Breed sells for $60 CAD at the LCBO, when they have it in stock. My sample was provided by TOModera of Reddit, and was batch WT-03RB from 2011, which was 54.1% ABV.

Let’s see how it compares to other bourbons in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database – especially other cask-strength bourbons:

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength: 8.84 ± 0.43 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Baker’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon 7yo: 8.78 ± 0.29 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Barton 1792 Full Proof: 8.69 ± 0.52 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel: 8.93 ± 0.23 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Booker’s Small Batch: 8.84 ± 0.24 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Bulleit Bourbon Barrel Strength: 8.55 ± 0.28 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Colonel EH Taylor Barrel Proof: 8.89 ± 0.20 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof: 8.90 ± 0.22 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength: 8.80 ± 0.29 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Evan Williams Single Barrel: 8.67 ± 0.23 on 18 reviews ($$)
Henry McKenna 10yo Single Barrel BiB: 8.75 ± 0.26 on 12 reviews ($$)
Old Grand-Dad Bourbon 100 BiB: 8.39 ± 0.49 on on 11 reviews ($$)
Old Grand-Dad Bourbon 114: 8.63 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$)
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.71 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$)
Russell’s Reserve Small Batch 10yo: 8.57 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$)
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel: 8.83 ± 0.39 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Stagg Jr (all batches): 8.53 ± 0.41 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon: 8.43 ± 0.36 on 21 reviews ($$)
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel: 8.85 ± 0.29 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Wild Turkey Rare Breed: 8.71 ± 0.31 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Wild Turkey Forgiven: 8.46 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades: 9.01 ± 0.19 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)

WT Rare Breed gets a good score for the price, among this class of cask-strength bourbons.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: I get a fairly standard level of rye, as expected for WT. Lots of caramel. Cherries and some dark fruit (dried, not fresh). Cinnamon and all-spice. Lots of nose hair pickle from the high alcohol level, as expected. Acetone and some off-note that I can’t quite identify (both detract for me personally). Not really getting a lot of subtlety here, it’s a full-force bourbon nose.

Palate: A fair amount of rye zing, joining the standard corn notes. Caramel. Some citrus (orange). Has a higher rye taste than I expected from the mashbill, cinnamon and all-spice in particular. Oaky and spicy, with black pepper and a little anise. The higher ABV is noticeable here, and a bit overwhelming. Some bitterness on the swallow.

Finish: Long. Lighter sweetness slips in now, with some honey and light vanilla. Pear. Finish of lighter rye notes, nutmeg included. Fairly astringent though (i.e., drying). Touch of spearmint comes in at very end, which is nice.

With water, ethanol burn on the nose is lightened. More caramel in the mouth now, but still plenty of rye spice. Definitely better with a bit of water, becomes even more syrupy. Fair amount of astringency remains on finish though, which water doesn’t seem to affect.

Overall, I like the finish of this bourbon the best – I find it too strong and wood-focused on nose and palate, especially neat. Only on the finish does it open up and more subtle flavours emerge. This is a rare example where I actually prefer a standard bottling of this whisky over the cask-strength (i.e. the relatively high proof Wild Turkey 101).

Among reviewers, it is again very popular with Jim Murray, Serge of Whisky Fun and the guys at Quebec Whisky – all scoring it higher than WT 101. Josh the Whiskey Jug likes it (gives it the same score as WT 101). Similarly, Nick of Breaking Bourbon gives it the same score as Eric gave WT 101. Still with a relatively lower score – but higher than WT 101 – is Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. Jason of In Search of Elegance gives it a fairly low score – and prefers WT 101, as I do.

Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon

Wild Turkey is a popular Kentucky-based bourbon, currently owned by Campari group. Distilling has been under the dynastic control of the Russell family for many years now. It has the image of a no-nonsense, uncompromising style of bourbon, lacking in pretentiousness. The name apparently stems from the early days of production, when a wholesaler took a bunch of warehouse samples on a turkey hunt. The whisky proved so popular with his compatriots, that they kept asking him for that “wild turkey bourbon” – and thus a marketing angle was born.

Wild Turkey occupies an interesting position in the range of bourbon styles. On paper, it has a fairly standard bourbon profile, with a historically “typical” level of rye in the mashbill – 13%. This qualifies it as a “standard” rye in my bourbon classification scheme (i.e.,  R2 in the database). However, this is one of the few bourbons out there that doesn’t easily fit into that mashbill-based classification – many drinkers find a more substantial rye-like presence to the whisky, and would consider as a “high rye” bourbon. Indeed, for those who forgo the low/standard/high rye bourbon classification for a simpler low/high one, there is no doubt that you would consider Wild Turkey as high rye (e.g., see the Reddit bourbon guide). This bold flavour in WT may be due to the relatively high char levels of the barrels, as well as the relatively low proof coming off the stills.

There are several variants of this bird out there. Wild Turkey 101 is so-named because it is bottled at 101 proof (50.5% ABV). This is higher proof than their standard entry-level bottling (WT 81).

In late 2016, I picked up a 1L travel retail bottle (i.e., duty-free) of WT 101 for $22 USD, on sale at a US airport. The LCBO started stocking it in early 2017, but at higher cost (currently $38 CAD for 750mL).  But it still seems the best value among the various Wild Turkey bottlings available at the LCBO (i.e., it is $33 CAD for the WT 81, and $60 CAD for the Rare Breed barrel-proof).

Here is how WT compares to other similarly-priced bourbons in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database – especially Bottled in Bond (BiB) expressions, given the similar strength (100 proof):

Barton 1792 Small Batch: 8.53 ± 0.43 on 18 reviews ($$)
Buffalo Trace: 8.57 ± 0.38 on 23 reviews ($$)
Bulleit Bourbon: 8.37 ± 0.35 on 24 reviews ($$)
Elijah Craig Small Batch: 8.28 ± 0.28 on 4 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams BiB: 8.32 ± 0.49 on 11 reviews ($)
Evan Williams Single Barrel: 8.67 ± 0.23 on 18 reviews ($$)
Four Roses (Yellow Label): 8.19 ± 0.34 on 12 reviews ($)
Four Roses Small Batch: 8.49 ± 0.40 on 16 reviews ($$)
Heaven Hill 6yo BiB: 8.36 ± 0.24 on 8 reviews ($)
Henry McKenna 10yo Single Barrel BiB: 8.75 ± 0.26 on 12 reviews ($$)
Jim Beam Bonded: 8.47 ± 0.42 on 11 reviews ($$)
Knob Creek Small Batch 9yo: 8.60 ± 0.39 on 23 reviews ($$)
Old Forester: 8.12 ± 0.44 on 12 reviews ($$)
Old Fitzgerald BiB: 7.93 ± 0.45 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Old Grand-Dad Bourbon 100 BiB: 8.39 ± 0.49 on 11 reviews ($$)
Russell’s Reserve Small Batch 10yo: 8.57 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$)
Wild Turkey 81 Bourbon: 8.09 ± 0.47 on 16 reviews ($)
Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon: 8.43 ± 0.36 on 21 reviews ($$)
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel: 8.85 ± 0.29 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Wild Turkey Rare Breed: 8.71 ± 0.31 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Wild Turkey Forgiven: 8.46 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select: 8.38 ± 0.32 on 22 reviews ($$)

I know there are a lot of numbers up there, but WT101 gets a good score for this strength bourbon, at this price range.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Light and sweet initially, with strong caramel notes. Apple. Slightly burnt toffee (may be from barrel char). Caramel apples really come to mind. Light rye spice. Mint, and a touch of dill. No real off notes, it’s nice.

Palate: Caramel apple again. Honey. Vanilla. Cinnamon and touch of cloves. Dill again. Seems like a very well balanced and integrated bourbon. Bit of ethanol heat on back end. Burn on swallowing persists, even after multiple sips. Spicy overall.

Finish: Medium. Light, sweet cane sugar, with just a touch of artificial sweetener. Apple and pear. Vanilla. Very gentle fade out. Nutmeg. A bit drying (astringent), but not bad.

With water, I get some added Juicy Fruit gum flavour on the nose and finish. Mouthfeel lightens very quickly though, without affecting the burn. I recommend you drink it with only a small splash of water.

Pretty decent bourbon, easy to drink, but with some noticeable kick and persistent burn on the finish. Would work very well in cocktails, thanks to the high rye flavour and extra proof. Overall, it seems well balanced for flavour, age, and cost – a good value bourbon.

Among reviewers, Josh the Whiskey Jug is a big fan. The guys at Quebec Whisky are generally quite positive as well, as is Jim Murray. More moderately positive reviews (with below average scores) come from Serge of Whisky Fun, Nathan the Scotch Noob and Eric of Breaking Bourbon. A relatively lower score is given by Richard of Whiskey Reviewer although he still considers it quite under-rated for the class. Jason of In Search of Elegance shares my assessment that this is superior to Rare Breed.

 

Highland Queen Blended Scotch

I had never heard of this particular brand – and so was surprised to see several different bottlings of blended Scotch whiskies and single malt expressions on the shelf on a recent trip out West.

The origin of the brand name dates back to 1893, with the Highland Queen blend of Macdonald & Muir Ltd. Named in honour of Mary Queen of Scots, the original Highland Queen was supplied by Glenmorangie distillery. The brand was purchased in 2008, and the Highland Queen Scotch Whisky Company was established at the Tullibardine distillery, in the Scottish Highlands.

I’ve had a few Tullibardine malts, which are generally quite mild and inoffensive. It’s definitely a “gentle dram” maker, and should work well for basic blends.

This entry-level scotch blend is the base expression of the Highland Queen line, aged for 3 years and bottled at 40% ABV. I saw this this bottling on sale for $26 CAD in a COOP in Calgary, Alberta.

Let’s see how it compares to other entry level blends in my Meta-Critic Database:

Ballantine’s Finest: 7.62 ± 0.61 on 12 reviews ($)
Bank Note 5yo Blended Scotch: 8.09 ± 0.67 on 5 reviews ($)
Bell’s Original: 7.57 ± 0.77 on 7 reviews ($)
Black Bottle (after 2013 re-launch): 7.99 ± 0.47 on 12 reviews ($$)
Catto’s Rare Old: 8.02 ± 0.68 on 5 reviews ($)
Cutty Sark: 7.53 ± 0.46 on 15 reviews ($)
Famous Grouse: 7.64 ± 0.56 on 20 reviews ($)
Grant’s Family Reserve: 7.69 ± 0.67 on 14 reviews ($)
Hankey Bannister Original: 7.87 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($)
Highland Queen: 7.92 ± 0.45 on 3 reviews ($)
Islay Mist 8yo: 7.91 ± 0.47 on 9 reviews ($)
J&B Rare: 6.98 ± 1.03 on 11 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.36 ± 0.59 on 21 reviews ($)
Teacher’s Highland Cream: 7.95 ± 0.72 on 11 reviews ($)
Whyte & Mackay Special Reserve: 7.47 ± 0.46 on 7 reviews ($)

There are only a limited number of reviews, but so far Highland Queen is scoring on par with the higher-end of the base scotch blends in my database.

I was given a sample to try, let’s see what I found in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with honey and caramel initially. Standard apples and pears (apple juice), but not a lot of fruit otherwise. A touch of nutmeg. Very simple, but pretty decent for an entry-level blend, with a surprising lack of solvent notes.

Palate: Apples remain the most prominent here, caramel-dipped. Honey, with a bit of vanilla. Something faintly herbaceous, but nothing specifically identifiable. Maybe a touch of anise. Light and watery mouthfeel, with no real burn.

Finish: Short. Quick and clean, just faint apple juice and honey. Disappears with no off notes, but a slight touch of bitterness does creep in.

A very basic blend, with a limited ex-bourbon barrel flavour palate. But surprisingly lacking the off-notes that mar most entry-level blends for me.

This base blend gets a decent score from Jim Murray (though still below average), and a positive review (but a low score) from Jonny at Whisky Advocate. Personally, I’m in-between on this one, but closer to Jonny in score. Nothing to specifically seek out, but as the Meta-Critic shows, you could do a lot worse.

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