Tag Archives: Peated

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.

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.

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.

Karuizawa Asama Vintages 1999/2000

Ah, the fabled Karuizawa distillery.  Established in 1955, Karuizawa was one of the early pioneers of Japanese whisky production. Unusually for a Japanese whisky maker, they focused mainly on sherry cask aging. It was always a relatively small operation however, and production was eventually mothballed in 2000 (with the distillery permanently closing in 2011).

Karuizawa was located in a small town on the slopes of an active volcano, Mount Asama. Coming from the end of production, this Karuizawa Asama expression is a multi-vintage bottling of 77 casks from the final 1999 and 2000 vintages. It was bottled in 2012 by the company that bought out all the remaining casks when the distillery closed, Number One Drinks in the UK. Sadly, this is the likely the last Karuizawa release we are ever going to see. Note that this edition is different from an earlier Spirit of Asama release, through The Whisky Exchange.

I believe Karuizawa Asama was mainly released in Europe. It is bottled at 46% ABV, and the casks used were predominantly sherry butts (although some bourbon casks may have been included). As opposed to the expensive final age-statement Karuizawas produced under their own name, this Asama expression was initially sold at a budget price (for Karuizawa stock, that is). Since then, prices for the few remaining Asama bottles have skyrocketed (which is why it currently earns a $$$$$+ in my database).

But somehow, the Dr Jekyll’s pub in Oslo, Norway, recently managed to get some in at the original low price. Rather than gouge their customers, they offered it at 137 NOK (just over $21 CAD) for a standard 4 cl (1.35 oz) pour.  That puts it at the same price point as an entry-level Scottish malt in the bar (note that liquor in Norway is among the most heavily taxed in Europe). I must say, even the bartenders were pretty surprised when they rang it up for me – all the other Karuizawas they have (including several OBs and a custom cask just for Dr Jekyll’s) are in the 400-800 NOK range (i.e., $65-$130 CAD a shot)!

I don’t track many Karuizawa vintages in my database, given their rarity and cost.  But here’s how Asama compares to some other Japanese whiskies (especially those with some sherry finishing).

Hakushu Sherry Cask: 8.96 ± 0.43 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Ichiro’s Malt The Joker: 9.24 ± 0.22 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries: 8.64 ± 0.27 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Karuizawa 1990 Sherry Butt: 9.00 ± 0.30 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Karuizawa Asama Vintages 1999-2000: 8.63 ± 0.44 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Nikka From the Barrel: 8.81 ± 0.40 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve: 8.63 ± 0.32 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Yamazaki Puncheon: 8.63 ± 0.23 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Yamazaki Sherry Cask (all vintages): 9.07 ± 0.30 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)
Yamazaki 18yo: 9.14 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)

There is clearly higher than usual variation in reviews of this particular Asama whisky (as there are with a couple of the other sherry cask finished Japanese whiskies).  That’s always an interesting feature to explore further, and I’ll come back to this point at the end of the review.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Now that’s a bit different! You get the obvious hit of sherry (with figs, raisins, and nuts), but with attenuated smokey notes (spent matchsticks, extinguished campfire) and just a slight touch of peat. Very much a rancio profile – how odd for a Japanese whisky. Layered, but in a really unusual way that is hard to describe (“atypical” was the first comment in my shorthand tasting notes). A touch of lemon. Some salt. Slightly floral (hint of apple blossoms). Really distinctive – the closest thing in my experience would be some independent bottlings of Highland Park.

Palate: Like the nose, complex and layered. Definitely a drier type of sherry here, with dried fruits dominating. I do get some sweet syrupy notes however (brown sugar mainly, touch of maple). Spent matchsticks again (I think some people describe this dry smokey note as “gunpowder”). Chewy texture, great mouthfeel.‎ No real burn to speak of.  Certainly leaves a very favourable initial impression in the mouth – you don’t want to swallow! Doesn’t need any water, but a small amount brings up the sweetness slightly without affecting the other characteristics.

Finish: Nice and long, with slow lingering smoke. No real bitterness to my taste buds (YMMV, see comments below). Citrusy, but not a lot of variety on the fruit front, just a lingering sweetness (i.e., more juicy fruit gum than actual fruits). A bit of tobacco and leather. A touch more complexity here would have made it outstanding, but it is still excellent for the Japanese class.

AsamaA quality‎ dram through and through. Its atypical-ness is something you are either likely to love (as I do), or feel frustrated by (i.e., it could seem “unbalanced” to some). I wish I could find a bottle for what the pub paid for it – but that’s highly wishful thinking. Instead, I made do with going back to Dr Jekyll’s the next night and having a second pour. 🙂

Never having expected to try it, I didn’t know much about this one ahead of time. As such, it is ironic that I had just finished the Mortlach 18 year old in the bar before trying Asama. Based on my earlier review of the Mortlach Rare Old, my description of the Asama here is similar to the profile that I would have expected from the Mortlach. But the Asama blew it out of the water on all fronts – nose, palate and finish. The Mortlach just seemed “closed” and toned down to me in direct comparison.

Those who are sensitive to sulphury notes may find the Asama a bit off-putting. As a discussed in the Mortlach Rare Old review, sensitivity to this “biological danger signal” is quite variable among different genetic populations. I suspect some of the sherry casks used here may have suffered from over-sulphuring. To me, that just introduced a distinctive character, but YMMV.

As you would expect give the above, variation among reviewers for this one is high. Like me, Serge of Whisky Fun loves it. Michio of Japan Whisky Reviews and My Annoying Opinions are conflicted on this one, and both give it lower than typical scores. The guys at Quebec Whisky are a good example the the range on this one: top marks from Patrick, above-average scores from Andre and Martin, and a low score from RV. If you get the chance to try it yourself, I highly recommend you give it shot.

Glen Garioch 1995 Vintage

Glen Garioch (pronounced GEAR-ee) is not exactly a house-hold name in the Scotch world, but the distillery is actually one of the oldest in Scotland. Today, it is known for its relatively mild and gentle single malts, most especially the inexpensive NAS Founder’s Reserve and 12 year old expression.

Glen Garioch also regularly produces a number of limited edition, small batch, vintage releases – typically every couple of years.  The one that I am reviewing here (1995, batch No. 10) is from the final year of Glen Garioch old-make, before its temporary closure in 1995. This is significant, as when the distillery reopened, it no longer peated its whisky.  So the 1995 and older vintages are of a different style from the current Founder’s Reserve, 12 yo and newer vintages (i.e., the 1995 is lightly peated, whereas the current offerings have no peat).

There are still a few bottles of the vintage 1995 available across the LCBO, so I thought I’d get this review in while you still had a chance to pick one up, if interested.

Here’s how the various Glen Gariochs compare in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, in relation to other lightly peated single malts:

Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve: 8.34 ± 0.40 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Glen Garioch Virgin Oak: 8.09 ± 0.50 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Garioch 12yo: 8.62 ± 0.33 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Garioch 1991: 8.94 ± 0.14 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Garioch 1994: 9.03 ± 0.36 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Garioch 1995: 8.92 ± 0.34 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Garioch 1997: 8.53 ± 0.15 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Garioch 1999 Sherry Cask Matured: 8.37 ± 0.97 on 7 reviews ($$$$)

Benromach 10yo: 8.69 ± 0.26 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore 10yo Tempest: 8.78 ± 0.22 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 12yo: 8.39 ± 0.28 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Islay Barley 8.54 ± 0.23 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated: 8.78 ± 0.28 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Caol Ila 12yo: 8.70 ± 0.19 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Caol Ila 18yo: 8.66 ± 0.51 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Oban 14yo: 8.42 ± 0.40 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Oban 18yo: 8.72 ± 0.18 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.68 ± 0.24 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 16yo Local Barley: 9.02 ± 0.18 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 18yo: 8.96 ± 0.19 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)
Talisker Distiller’s Edition: 8.95 ± 0.25 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Talisker 10yo: 8.91 ± 0.17 on 21 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see, the Glen Garioch 1995 gets a very high score for this class, especially for the price (i.e., it one of the highest ranking cluster I malts in the $$$$ group). It doesn’t have as many reviews as many of the others, but I find the average score of most whiskies is pretty stable once 7-8 reviews are in.

Glen Garioch 1995 is bottled 55.3% ABV. My sample was provided by Redditor WDMC-905. Here is what I find in the glass.

Nose: Honey. Light fruits, mainly apple and pear (and some starfruit). Sweet peat, with just a touch of smoke. A bit woody (evergreens). No real off notes. Some water helps it open up, and brings up sweet butterscotch and dried banana.

Palate: Initial tingle in the tip of the tongue, anesthetizing. Definite antiseptic notes, lightly medicinal, with those woody notes turning to menthol now. Honey again, and some dry grassy notes. Not very fruity. With water though, you get a lot of sweetness – toffee, butterscotch and vanilla in particular. Pancake syrup. The fruits are back as well, along with a touch of citrus (lemon). This is one where water is really required to bring out the maximum range of flavours, as well as a nice buttery mouthfeel. Very nice.

Finish: Medium long. Nice, slow linger of the pancake syrup notes, with whiffs of smoke right to the very end.

glen-garioch-1995

The Glen Garioch 1995 is great malt for fans of flavour cluster I – lightly smokey, but packing a good range of subtle flavours. But it is also one that definitely needs some water in my view – otherwise, it is too closed off and anesthetizing.

The highest scores I’ve seen for this whisky come from the guys in the Quebec Whisky club, and on Reddit (see for example muaddib99 and xile_). Serge of Whisky Fun hasn’t reviewed this specific vintage, but he has most of the others from this time period – and gives them all an above-average score (e.g., see the 1994 vintage). Similarly, Ralfy hasn’t reviewed this vintage, he did give a very good score to the earlier 1990 vintage. More moderate on the 1995 vintage is Gavin of Whisky Advocate.  Jim Murray gives this 1995 vintage a lower than average score.

 

Benromach 10 Year Old

Benromach is a tiny speyside distillery that makes an older style of single malt with a bit of peat smoke in it.  This style is coming back into vogue now – I’m noticing a number of the established distilleries in this region (who don’t normally use peat) are starting to introduce new peated whisky lines.

Owned by the large independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail, Benromach is their attempt at becoming an official bottler. The Benromach10 yo (which was specifically engineered to replicate the lightly-peated speyside profile of pre-1960 era) has garnered a lot of attention from enthusiasts.

This review is of the standard 10 year old bottling, at 43% ABV.  There is a different higher “100 proof” bottling out there (57% ABV, based on the Imperial proof system).  My sample of the Benromach 10 came from the Redditor wuhantang. Here are how the various Benromachs compare to each other, and the competition:

Benromach Organic: 8.50 ± 0.51 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Benromach Peat Smoke: 8.45 ± 0.25 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Benromach Traditional: 8.38 ± 0.47 on 11 reviews ($$)
Benromach 5yo: 8.79 ± 0.20 on 4 reviews ($$)
Benromach 10yo: 8.69 ± 0.26 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Benromach 10yo Cask Strength (100 proof): 9.05 ± 0.13 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Benromach 15yo: 8.62 ± 0.50 on 8 reviews ($$$$)

Arran Machrie Moor Peated: 7.91 ± 0.60 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach Birnie Moss: 8.26 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 10yo Curiositas: 8.58 ± 0.30 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore 12yo: 8.39 ± 0.28 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Islay Barley: 8.54 ± 0.23 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated: 8.78 ± 0.28 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Caol Ila 12yo: 8.70 ± 0.19 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Peated: 8.53 ± 0.27 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 10yo: 8.47 ± 0.28 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo (reviews post-mid 2014): 8.38 ± 0.36 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Jura Superstition: 8.25 ± 0.48 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Jura 10yo Origin: 8.00 ± 0.39 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Oban 14yo: 8.43 ± 0.40 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.68 ± 0.24 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Talisker 10yo: 8.91 ± 0.17 on 21 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see, the standard Benromach 10 yo compares favourably with most of the other well-established names in this space (e.g., scores on par with the Springbank 10 yo and Caol Ila 12 yo).  That’s an impressive showing, especially given the lower price of the Benromach 10 yo.

Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: A strong malted barley backbone. Sweet, with barley sugar and some hay notes. Light fruit in the background, pear, peach and citrus mainly. Lightly peated, at around the Highland Park-level (but without the overt sherry influence, despite the finishing).  A bit of oak coming through. Also some mild notes of dish soap and a touch of sweatsocks. Better than it sounds, this is actually quite pleasant.

Palate: Pear/peach again, orange, and some sweetness with golden raisins. Simple sugar and some butterscotch. Barley malt remains the main characteristic. Still has that hay note, but more grassy now. Some light spice picks up – more along the lines of pepper and Indian spices, not the typical baking ones. The off-notes from the nose are turning more toward glue now, but still not offensive. Smoke lingers nicely at the end, with some sweetness returning (first hint of that sherry finishing). As expected for the low ABV, somewhat light mouthfeel (i.e., a bit watery). Not bad, but not really a stand-out either.

Finish: Medium length. Smoke lingers on a Juicy Fruit gum base. A bit of dried ginger, which adds just the right note of bitterness to offset the lingering sweetness.

benromach-10I would say the Benromach 10 yo is very good value for what it is: a solid single malt in this lightly-peated flavour cluster I. Personally, I would probably still give both the Springbank 10yo and Caol Ila 12yo a slight nod over this one, but I agree it is better than the entry-level Highland Parks.

It terms of other reviews, one reviewer who really helped put this whisky on the map is Ralfy. He gave it a moderately positive review, but then subsequently named it his “whisky of the year for 2014“.  Ruben of Whisky Notes and Jan of Best Shot Whisky are very positive.  My own assessment is more in-line with the moderately positive reviews by Nathan the ScotchNoob, Josh the Whiskey Jug and the guys at Quebec Whisky. There are no real negative reviews out there among my stable of reviewers (which is in itself quite positive).

Longrow Peated

Longrow is the heavily-peated arm of Springbank distillers.  Regular Springbank releases have a certain amount of peat to them, but the Longrow brand amps this up by a considerable amount.

As explained in my Springbank 10 yo review, Springbank is one of the distilleries from the historical Campeltown region in Scotland. They are distinctive among distillers for controlling the entire production process on site (from malting, all the way to bottling). Overall, I find most Springbank whiskies to be fairly light and fruity.

Longrow Peated is the revised name for what was previously known as Longrow CV.  Although I separate these two expressions in my Whisky Database, it appears from the flavour descriptions and scores that what is in the bottle is not very different (i.e., this is just a labeling change).

Here are how the various Springbank offerings compare in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Hazelburn 8yo: 8.40 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Hazelburn 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.21 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow CV: 8.82 ± 0.31 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Longrow Peated: 8.82 ± 0.19 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Longrow 10yo: 8.57 ± 0.44 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow 18yo: 9.17 ± 0.22 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.69 ± 0.24 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 12yo Cask Strength: 8.85 ± 0.28 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 18yo: 8.96 ± 0.19 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)

And here is how it compares to some other whiskies of in the same price range and flavour cluster J class (i.e., heavily peated):

AnCnoc Rutter: 8.97 ± 0.30 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Ardbeg 10yo: 8.96 ± 0.33 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Benromach Peat Smoke: 8.46 ± 0.26 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach: 8.74 ± 0.27 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Compass Box Peat Monster: 8.64 ± 0.33 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Ileach Peated Islay: 8.35 ± 0.29 on 6 reviews ($$)
Ileach Peated Islay Cask Strength: 8.83 ± 0.38 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Jura Prophecy: 8.64 ± 0.32 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Kilchoman Loch Gorm: 9.02 ± 0.17 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Lagavulin 8yo: 8.86 ± 0.27 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Quarter Cask: 9.03 ± 0.27 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig 10yo: 8.86 ± 0.25 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Longrow Peated: 8.82 ± 0.19 on 12 reviews ($$$)

As you can see, the average score for the Longrow Peated fits in quite well with this class, with a very low standard deviation.

Note that while I have assigned Longrow Peated to the heavily-peated cluster J, it is really right on the border with the lightly-peated cluster I (which tends to get lower scores overall). It is definitely more peated than regular Springbank, though.

My thanks to Jason Hambrey of In Search of Elegance for the sample swap. Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweat peat, very earthy. Initial fruits are pear and apple, with a distinctive citrus element (tangerines) and something tropical (pineapple especially). Very malty. Herbal, with hints of a floral bouquet under the smoke. Definitely medicinal (i.e., antiseptic smell).

Palate: Light but earthy, with some definite salt now. A touch of vanilla for sweetness.  Lemon joins the citrus family, and the other fruit notes die down. Very cleansing. Uncomplicated but not dull, you feel like you are really directly experiencing the distillery character here. A wave of smoke wafts over your mouth as you swallow.

Longrow.PeatedFinish: Medium long, with a return of some of the lighter fruits (pear, and those tropical notes). Juicy fruit gum.  The smoke lingers, with a tingle in the back of your throat. Feels like an antiseptic – something they would have made you gargle with in a previous age.

Despite all the medicinal/antiseptic references above, this is actually quite pleasant. It is sweeter than most light-flavoured peated whiskies at this price point, but never feels artificial.  Quite brisk and cleansing.  This is one where you don’t really pick up much from the wood (beyond the standards in all Scotch). Very spirit-driven, as they say.

It is also very easy to drink – I was surprised to see how quickly I drained my glass.  Definitely up there as one of the lighter-tasting peated whiskies you should try on your Scotch whisky journey.  But the numb throat effect afterwards may make you feel like you’ve swallowed a local anesthetic.

As with Springbank 10 yo, the most favourable review I’ve seen for Longrow Peated comes from Serge of Whisky Fun.  More typical are Micheal of Diving for Pearls, My Annoying Opinions, Josh the Whiskey Jug, and the guys at Quebec Whisky. Honestly, I don’t really see any negative reviews of this whisky among the established reviewers.  A consistently solid choice.

Springbank 10 Year Old

Springbank distillers are based in Campbeltown, one of the traditional whisky making regions  of Scotland.  As explained on the various background pages of this site, historical designations don’t matter much for Scotch (if they ever did). Individual distilleries now use a variety of distilling processes and barreling/blending approaches, and so geographical location is largely a red herring when it comes to understanding whisky flavour (see my Source of whisky’s flavour page for more info).

Springbank is distinctive for one reason though – it is one of the few whisky-makers in Scotland that still performs the entire production process, from beginning to end, on site.  Starting with malting (using its own floor maltings), through distillation, barreling and bottling (using its private bottling plant), Springbank is truly a self-sufficient distillery. It would probably surprise most Scotch drinkers to learn how often barrels are stored and blended offsite (not to mention diluted and bottled).

The standard offerings from Springbank (under their eponymous label) are typically lightly peated. But they also produce a heavily-peated malt whisky under the Longrow name, and peat-free malt whisky under Hazelburn.  For my inaugural Springbank review, I thought I’d start with the common (and popular) Springbank 10 year old. The 10 yo is a mixture of both bourbon and sherry matured malt whisky.

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

Hazelburn 8yo: 8.40 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Hazelburn 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.21 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow Peated: 8.82 ± 0.19 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Longrow 10yo: 8.57 ± 0.43 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow 18yo: 9.18 ± 0.23 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.69 ± 0.25 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 12yo Cask Strength: 8.86 ± 0.28 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 18yo: 8.96 ± 0.19 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)

And here is how it compares to some other whiskies of in the same flavour cluster I class (i.e., lightly peated):

BenRiach 10yo Curiositas: 8.59 ± 0.30 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Benromach 10yo: 8.70 ± 0.27 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore 12yo: 8.37 ± 0.24 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Ten: 8.82 ± 0.33 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Caol Ila 12yo: 8.71 ± 0.19 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Highland Park 10yo: 8.49 ± 0.30 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo: 8.39 ± 0.38 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Jura 10yo Origin: 8.01 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Ledaig 10yo: 8.22 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Oban 14yo: 8.44 ± 0.40 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.69 ± 0.25 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Talisker 10yo: 8.90 ± 0.21 on 21 reviews ($$$$)

It holds its own pretty well, getting comparably high scores to Benromach 10 and Caol Ila 12.

Bottled at a refreshing 46% ABV, Springbank doesn’t use coloring (or chill-filtering). My sample comes the Redditor tsefly. Note there is also a 50% ABV 10 yo bottle out there, but I haven’t tried it.

Here is what I find in the glass for the standard Springbank 10:

Nose: Peatier than I expected, with a moist earth quality (and very little smoke per se). Main fruits are apple, lemon, and to a lesser extent peach (which is distinctive). Somewhat briny, with a hint of flower blossoms below the surface.  A touch of spice as well, but nothing I can identify. Similar profile to Longrow, as you might expect. Some nose-hair singe.

Palate: Cereal sweetness up front, followed by spicy peat (although less peaty than the nose suggested). Salted caramel. Very nice entry, with just the right amount of tongue tingle. Light apple juice on the way out, with just a bit of smoke. Somewhat oily mouthfeel, reminds a bit of an Irish pot still whisky. Definitely savoury, with less bitterness than I expected. Seems a keeper so far!

Spingbank.10Finish: Medium length.  The briny sea air returns, with a touch of bitterness, and more spice. Unfortunately, some artificial sweetness also creeps in, which I am not a fan of.  Very light smoke residue.  Not bad, but not quite at the level promised by the palate.

I can certainly see why this whisky is so popular with Scotch drinkers. It is a quality dram, with a surprising amount of light fruit and peaty flavours. Although my own preference for a daily dram runs more toward lightly smokey than peaty (and less overtly sweet), I can see why some would favour this malt.

The highest praise I’ve seen for this whisky is from Serge of Whisky Fun. More typical positive reviews can be found from Nathan the Scotchnoob, Oliver of Dramming, and Ruben of Whisky Notes. Ralfy and the boys at Quebec Whisky are a bit less impressed, although still give it reasonable scores.

 

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.

 

 

Caol Ila 30 Year Old

This is a review of the official bottling of a vintage 1983 Caol Ila, released by Diageo in 2014. Only 7,638 bottles of this 30yo bottling were produced.

Normally, I only review whiskies where I have a significant sample on hand for tasting (typically sampled at home, in a controlled environment). In this case, I got to enjoy a generous pour from a bottle at a flagship LCBO store, and had a chance to record my notes in a quiet corner.

At $750 CAD, this is the most expensive whisky I’ve reviewed yet.  It is also the oldest, at 30 years of barrel aging. This is thus an interesting opportunity to see what effect extended aging has on the so-called “lightly peated” flavour profile of Caol Ila (see my recent 12yo review for a discussion of the house style).

First, here are the Meta-critic scores for some other popular aged smokey/peaty single malt original bottlings:

Ardbeg 17yo: 9.05 ± 0.29 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Caol Ila 18yo: 8.66 ± 0.54 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Caol Ila 30yo: 9.38 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.18 ± 0.27 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 21yo :8.89 ± 0.41 on 14 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 25yo: 9.20 ± 0.25 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 30yo: 9.06 ± 0.42 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 40yo: 9.07 ± 0.39 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Lagavulin 16yo: 9.30 ± 0.25 on 23 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig 18yo: 9.09 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Laphroaig 25yo: 9.21 ± 0.31 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Pulteney 21yo: 8.67 ± 0.62 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Talisker 18yo: 9.25 ± 0.21 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Talisker 25yo: 8.95 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$$+)

The 30yo Caol Ila certainly tops the Meta-Critic scores for this class. Note that it is rare to see original bottlings of this age, given the limited availability of stock (i.e., more commonly found as small batches with independent bottlers).

Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: Fragrant nose, with a lot going on. I don’t get the wet peat of the younger Caol Ilas, but lots of extinguished smoke and ash (more the latter). Some distinctive medicinal/briny notes, plus well-worn leather. A faint nutty aroma, with a creamy overall feel. There is a fair amount of sweet fruit as well, like honeydew melon, along with a touch of citrus. Complex, yet elegant – you will want to spend a lot of time exploring this nose.

Palate: The salty and medicinal iodine notes come through up front, but they aren’t overwhelming. Same for the smoke/ash notes – present, but not as intense as the younger Coal Ilas. Some moist, earthy peat showing up now. Still getting the melon and some sort of pulpy fruit (papaya?). There is a spiciness as well, like anise – balanced with just the right level of sweetness (i.e., low- to mid-sweet black licorice, as I’ve only found in specialty shops in the UK). Definite oaky elements coming through, with clear vanilla. It is nowhere near as hot as you would expect for a 55.1% ABV whisky – shockingly easy to drink at this level. It has an incredibly luxurious mouthfeel.

Caol.Ila30Finish: Very long, with lingering smoke and ash. That balance of spicy and sweet (e.g., black licorice) persists as well.

This is a stunner!  It’s hard to express in words just how well this whisky works. Note that despite the descriptions above, a lot of the classic peaty notes have been attenuated by the extended barrel aging. Think of this one as a nice meal over an extinguished campfire.

I made the mistake of sampling the Highland Park 21yo after this whisky, and it just couldn’t compare on any level (and that’s coming from a big HP 18yo fan). Certainly not fair to the HP – I will need to try it again before I can fairly review it.

The Meta-Critic score for the Caol Ila 30yo seems reasonable to me – it is certainly one of the best whiskies I’ve ever had. While I would not pay the going rate for a bottle, I do recommend you try it if given the chance. For detailed reviews by reviewers who share my enthusiasm, you can try Serge at Whisky Fun, Ruben of Whisky Notes and Tone of Whisky Saga. Dave Broom of Whisky Advocate is also fairly positive.

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