Category Archives: Whisky Reviews

Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon Cask

A staple of the Solist series from Taiwanese producer Kavalan, I’ve been looking forward to trying this single cask malt whisky for a while now.

Late last year, I reviewed Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak – the vatted version of this whisky, reduced to 46% ABV. Like its Sherry Oak sibling, this is a good way to try a variant of the relatively expensive (and hard to find) Solist bottlings.  Although I’ve seen the Solist ex-Bourbon in my travels, it remains relatively steep here in Canada (if you can find it). I still regret not picking up a bottle when I had the chance passing through Taiwan a couple of years ago (for ~$100 CAD at that time, sigh).

Unlike the vatted ex-Bourbon Oak bottling, this is a true single cask whisky, bottled at cask strength. It was one of the first Solist bottlings to make a big splash on the international scene, garnering a Gold Medal at both the ISC 2010 and the IWSC 2011 competitions. As the name suggests, it is aged exclusively in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels.

My sample came courtesy of redditor Throzen. Cask number was B101126003A, bottle number was 069 out of 182. Bottled at 57.8% ABV.

Let’s see how the various Kavalan expressions do in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.30 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.43 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.62 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.73 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon: 8.86 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.99 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.79 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.07 ± 0.65 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.07 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.99 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Overwhelming vanilla and caramel to start. Fruits are definitely tropical, with papaya, banana and pineapple. Tons of coconut – makes me think of a pina colada. Orange citrus (juice and peels). Boston cream pie. Black pepper. Has a vague musty smell, along with some acetone, which are the only off-notes for me. Significant nose hair singe from the high alcohol content – this does better with some water to tame to raw ethanol. With water, some candied fruit notes appear, and butterscotch adds to the caramel.

Palate: Wow, that’s a hot one at cask-strength! More honeyed in the mouth, but still with lots of caramel. Milk chocolate. Fruits are subdued, more green bananas and pineapple juice now. Pepper and classic oak spices pick up, with some woody bitterness. Sticky, oily residue on the lips and gums after swallowing, which is nice. Again, you need some water to really open this up. Water brings in a lovely silky quality, like a melted caramilk bar, and turns it even sweeter in the mouth.

Finish: Long. The coconut returns on the finish, with some lingering tropical fruits. Not particularly sweet on the way out, as these are nicely balanced by the woody notes. Vaguely nutty. A grassy element also picks up now. This is a well-integrated finish, with that classic Kavalan astringency coming up at the very end.

My advice is to not be shy with the water here – it can handle a good amount. And it nicely tames the heat while keeping all the core elements intact (although it does make it even sweeter).

Fans of ex-bourbon oak maturation (and pina coladas!) will find a lot to like here. For me, this is a definite dessert whisky. It is so evocative of a tropical vacation, it almost doesn’t seem like whisky. I would score it higher than the ex-Bourbon Oak – largely because of the higher strength, which gives you more flexibility to customize the experience. I would also score it slightly higher than the Meta-Critic average, closer to ~9.0 in my view.

Among reviewers, the most positive (like me) are of Dominic and John of Whisky Advocate, Thomas of Whisky Saga, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and Jake of Whiskey Reviewer. Moderately positive reviews come from Serge of Whisky Fun, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, and Josh the Whiskey Jug. The lowest scores I’ve seen come from Andre of Quebec Whisky, Ruben of Whisky Notes, and Sinjun86 of Reddit – but these are still around the overall score for all whiskies reviewed. Clearly, this is one that is hard to go wrong with.

 

Grand Macnish Blended Scotch

Not exactly a house-hold name in the world of scotch blends, Grand Macnish has actually been in continuous production since 1863. Owned by MacDuff International, the brand has seen a recent expansion into a wide number of expressions (including several aged-stated ones). This is review of the entry-level version, which is the most common offering.

The whisky was originally developed by a Glasgow merchant, Robert McNish, who wanted to create a lighter, smoother type of scotch. It is composed of malt and grain whiskies from around the highland/speyside regions of Scotland. While it is not widely available, this entry-level blend has been sold at the LCBO for some time now (currently $40 CAD for 1.14L bottle). Bottled at 40% ABV. I managed to sample it from a friend’s recently opened bottle.

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

Ballantine’s Finest: 7.62 ± 0.61 on 12 reviews ($)
Catto’s 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.31 on 5 reviews ($$)
Catto’s Rare Old: 8.02 ± 0.67 on 5 reviews ($)
Chivas Regal 12yo: 7.79 ± 0.44 on 23 reviews ($$)
Cutty Sark: 7.54 ± 0.46 on 15 reviews ($)
Cutty Sark Prohibition: 8.48 ± 0.47 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s 12yo: 7.94 ± 0.35 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s White Label: 7.52 ± 0.71 on 14 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse: 7.65 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($)
Grand Macnish: 7.87 ± 0.45 on 8 reviews ($)
Grant’s Blended Sherry Cask: 8.00 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($)
Grant’s Family Reserve Blended: 7.69 ± 0.66 on 14 reviews ($)
Hankey Bannister 12yo Regency: 8.65 ± 0.24 on 7 reviews ($$)
Hankey Bannister Original: 7.87 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker 12yo Black Label: 8.26 ± 0.47 on 24 reviews ($$)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.36 ± 0.59 on 21 reviews ($)
Passport Blended Scotch: 7.29 ± 1.08 on 8 reviews ($)
Teacher’s Highland Cream: 7.95 ± 0.72 on 11 reviews ($)
Whyte & Mackay Special Reserve: 7.47 ± 0.45 on 7 reviews ($)

For the entry-level scotch category, Grand Macnish scores at the higher end of the range.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Heavy brown sugar to start. Pear. Raisins. Lemon curd. A bit floral (lavender). Touch of cloves. Some acetone and raw ethanol, but not bad. Slightly musty note.

Palate: Molasses and brown sugar. Vanilla. Apple and pear. Light cinnamon and pepper. A touch of nuts. Some wet cardboard. Watery mouthfeel, comes across as fairly thin.

Finish: Short. Slight oaky bitterness with a vague frutiness (nothing very distinct). But not unpleasant.

I would rate this as on par (or slightly higher) than the Meta-Critic average. It has relatively few off-notes on the nose, which is surprising for a blend in this price category. While fairly basic and single, it is better than your typical bottom-shelf scotch blend. An easy to drink blend, I would recommend this one for those newcomers to scotch whisky.

The most positive review I’ve seen comes for Jan of Best Shot Whisky. Jim Murray, Ralfy, and Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Serge of Whisky Fun are all relatively positive for the category (and in line with my thinking). The lowest scores I’ve seen comes from RV of Quebec Whisky and Jason of In Search of Elegance.

Fuyu Japanese Blended Whisky

It’s not every day a new Japanese whisky shows up at the LCBO here in Ontario, Canada – especially at $70 CAD for a 700mL bottle. Of course, when that whisky is a custom blend by a wine and spirits merchant based in Bordeaux, France (BBC Spirits), one also has to take a moment’s pause.

Japanese whisky is unquestionably all the rage right now. On a trip to Tokyo last month, I was dismayed by how much prices have increased (and availability decreased) for all the standard bottlings of the established distillers. There are many new entries on the shelves – but from Japanese spirit makers who either don’t distill whisky, or have just started operations (and are therefore sourcing their whisky from elsewhere for sale). At the moment, a lot Scottish and Canadian whisky is making its way to Japan to be bottled by these companies – in fancy-looking bottles meant to mimic the established distillers. Caveat emptor!

So what to make of Fuyu? The label doesn’t have a lot of detail, other than to state it is blended Japanese whisky, small batch (which is meaningless on a whisky), and a product of Japan. The former and latter statements at least give some reassurance that it is actually Japanese whisky in the bottle.

Here is what BBC Spirits website has to say about this blend:

FUYU means WINTER. Our handcrafted blended whisky comes from several distilleries, on Honshu island, that have been carefully selected by BBC. FUYU is a powerful and generous blend, true expression of the Japanese cellar masters’ blending know-how.

Right. FYI, Honshu is the main island of Japan – and eight out of the nine currently operating whisky distilleries are located there. So that’s not exactly a lot to go on. Given the incredible demand for Japanese whisky, I’m a little dubious as to what BBC Spirits would have been able to source at the moment. But for the sake of the local enthusiast community, I thought I’d take a plunge and buy a bottle. If nothing else, I love the label design.

Bottled at 40% ABV. Given the dark colour, I’m sure caramel colouring has been used. It bound to be chill-filtered.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Caramel, vanilla and honey to start. Plum wine. Creamed wheat. Lemon candies. There’s a soft floral component (rosewater?). Surprisingly, I’m detecting signs of Mizunara oak. Unfortunately, I am also getting paint thinner (turpentine) and nail polish remover (acetone). Slight funk, suggesting a lightly peated element in the blend. Seems young overall, with its heavy organic off-notes – but there is definitely something very Japanese about it, with reasonable complexity for a blend.

Palate: Mix of sweet and sour in the mouth. Certainly not as sweet as I expected from the nose. Prunes and green grapes. Creamed wheat again. Ginger. Nutmeg. Has a umami character (soy sauce), and a continuation of that funk from the nose. Dry cardboard. Thin mouthfeel, consistent with the low 40%. Some bitterness on swallow, but mild. Better than I was expecting, honestly.

Finish: Medium. Light corn syrup notes. A butteriness develops now, which is nice. The bitterness persists, but it is more of a ginger type, and seems to fit the blend somehow.

Surprisingly, this has more character than a standard entry-level Japanese blend at this price point. To be honest, its kind of what I imagine Chivas Regal Mizunara might taste like (although I haven’t tried it).

Personally, I prefer Hibiki Harmony over this blend. But there is more going on here than I expected. I would rate Fuyu on par with the Meta-Critic average scores for Suntory Toki and Hibiki Harmony (i.e., ~8.3). It needs some time to open in the glass – but it’s a glass I’m happy enough to finish.

Kavalan Podium

Podium is another single malt expression from Taiwanese producer Kavalan. It is matured in a combination of new American oak (virgin oak) and the distillery’s refill casks, making it an interesting blend of new and old.

I don’t see this expression around very often, so I was happy to come across a 50ml mini bottle at a BIC Camera in Tokyo last month. I was not as happy about the $19 CAD list price. It seems virtually all Japanese and Taiwanese whisky in Japan has reached unbelievable price levels. That’s supply and demand for you.

Bottled at 46% ABV. My mini bottle had a bottling code of 2015.12.19 08:06.

Let’s see how it compares to other Kavalan expressions in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.30 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.43 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.73 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.62 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt Whisky: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon: 8.85 ± 0.21 on 19 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.99 ± ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.79 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.07 ± 0.65 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.07 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.99 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

That’s a very good score for a non-Solist expression.

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with honey and tropical fruits – mango, papaya, banana and pineapple. Vanilla and caramel. Something reminiscent of a brandy or rum cask finish, unusually sweet.  Coconut and toasted oak. Cereal. A bit of earthy funk. All in all quite an interesting nose, with a good amount of character. No real off notes.

Palate: Sweet notes dominate initially – caramel and honey – followed by the same tropical fruit notes. There is also something floral now, but artificial (i.e. perfumy). Oak spices, cinnamon and all spice, plus pepper and anise. Also ginger. Somewhat woody – this definitely seems like a combination of refill and virgin oak. Warming as you swallow, with some raw ethanol lingering (even after multiple sips). This is unfortunately a little too raw and hot on the palate, compared to the lovely nose and initial taste.

Finish: Medium length. The artificial note persists, alongside the honey. Cinnamon and oaky spices. Dried apple shows up now. Leather. A bit of bitterness comes in at very end – and that trademark Kavalan astringency.

With water, caramel really picks up in mouth. Astringency on the finish is unaffected. I definitely recommend you try it with a little water.

Based on the nose, I had high hopes for this whisky. But it just seems a bit too hot and young on the palate, which detracts from the otherwise nice balance of refill casks and virgin wood. While it has some distinctive elements, at the end of the day I would only give this a slightly above average score. Although I’m in the minority here, I would probably even recommend Concertmaster over this one.

Among reviewers, it gets very high scores from Dominic of Whisky Advocate, Jim Murray, and washeewashee of Reddit. It gets more moderately positive (though average scores) from Serge of Whisky Fun, Jason of In Search of Elegance, Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Ruben of Whisky Notes. It gets a lower score from of Krishna of Malt Maniacs.  Personally, I would tend toward the mid-range of this panel.

Craigellachie 23 Year Old

Craigellachie is a single malt whisky distillery located in the Speyside region of Scotland (actually Aberlour, near the village of Craigellachie).  The name apparently means “rocky hill” and refers to a nearby cliff formation.

Craigellachie distillery was built in 1891, and like most Scottish whisky makers has passed through many hands over the years. In 1998, it was bought by John Dewar & Sons (now controlled by drinks giant Bacardi). The distillery’s output is directed primarily into Dewar’s blended whiskies. Note that Dewar & Sons also controls Royal Brackla, Aberfeldy, Aultmore, and Macduff (whose malts likely all suffer a similar fate).

Throughout its history, the distillery has released only a limited number of official bottlings. These were augmented in 2014 with several new age-stated expressions.  The oldest of these was a 23 year old, reviewed here. Craigellachie has since released a 31 year old expression as well.

Bottled at 46% ABV. Craigellachie 23 retails across a wide range, depending when you are located (i.e. I’ve seen it listed between ~$350-700 CAD).

Let’s see how Craigellachie malts fare in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, compared to other Dewar products:

Aberfeldy 12yo: 8.16 ± 0.33 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Aberfeldy 16yo: 8.48 ± 0.19 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Aberfeldy 18yo: 8.58 ± 0.24 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Aberfeldy 21yo: 8.79 ± 0.19 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Aultmore 12yo: 8.49 ± 0.21 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Aultmore 18yo: 8.57 ± 0.20 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Aultmore 25yo: 8.94 ± 0.21 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Craigellachie 13yo: 8.41 ± 0.56 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Craigellachie 14yo: 8.37 ± 0.28 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Craigellachie 17yo: 8.60 ± 0.19 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Craigellachie 23yo: 8.98 ± 0.25 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Dewar’s 12yo: 7.94 ± 0.35 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s White Label: 7.51 ± 0.71 on 14 reviews ($$)
Royal Brackla 12yo: ± 8.24 0.47 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Royal Brackla 16yo: ± 8.67 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Royal Brackla 21yo: ± 8.79 0.18 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)

Not surprisingly, the aged expressions are fairing the best in the comparisons above. That is certainly a very good score for the Craigellachie 23 – the highest of the group.

My sample came from Redditor Strasse007.

Nose: Apple juice and honey to start (like most Craigellachies), plus plums. Lemon citrus. Dried flowers and potpourri. Cinnamon. Wintergreen. Black tea. It’s a lovely light and aged nose, but with a good amount of complexity. Faint old book glue note.

Palate: Toffee and butterscotch start off, with some honey. Candied apples. Grapes. Citrus again (more orangey now). Cinnamon and some oaky wood, plus that black tea again. Has a full mouthfeel, with a buttery texture – very nice. It makes you want to hold it in your mouth. Slight ethanol note on the swallow, which detracts for me. Also something wet cardboard-like (which similarly doesn’t appeal).

Finish: Medium length. Nutmeg and cinnamon linger the longest, with mild oak spice. Some dried apple. Faint bitter cardboard note also persists to the end, unfortunately.

Water adds some additional simple sugar, but doesn’t help with the bitterness on finish.

This is an interesting experience, and one that seems driven by both the distillate and the cask aging (or some combination thereof). It has a lot of character for a light malt, but some of the notes may be off-putting.

Certainly above average in quality, but it is not really a standout for me. I might venture that it has been over-aged (and would probably be better a little younger). But a unique experience, and one I’m glad I got to try.

It gets very high scores from Serge of Whisky Fun, Ruben of Whisky Notes, and Dave of Whisky Advocate. Also positive are TOModera, Strasse007, Throwboats and Unclimbability on Reddit. I would be more moderately positive, along with Jim Murray, and cake_my_day, Ethanized and LetThereBeR0ck on Reddit. Certainly no negative reviews out there from among my stable of reviewers.

Powers Gold Label

Powers Gold is another one of the common entry-level Irish whiskies, like Jameson, Bushmills or Tullamore Dew.  I’ve been curious to try it for awhile, as I am a big fan of the higher-end Powers 12 year old John’s Lane. I’ve also heard positive things about Gold, compared to the similarly priced Irish blends listed above.

Like many Irish whiskies at this price point, Powers Gold is a blend of pot still and grain whiskies. It is believed to be aged for 5-6 years in ex-bourbon barrels.

Bottled at 42.3% ABV, Powers Gold sells for $40 CAD at the LCBO (after a recent price increase). This makes it at least $5 more expensive the the competition listed above. Is it worth the differential?  Let’s see what the Meta-Critic Database has to say:

2 Gingers Irish Whiskey: 8.05 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.67 ± 0.45 on 17 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.38 ± 0.38 on 22 reviews ($$)
Glendalough Double Barrel: 8.24 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$)
Jameson Irish Whiskey: 7.83 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan Irish Reserve Malt Whiskey: 7.97 ± 0.46 on 7 reviews ($$)
Powers Gold Label: 8.04 ± 0.39 on 13 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Original Clan Irish Whiskey: 8.14 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$)
Traditional Irish Whiskey: 7.69 ± 1.04 on 8 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.84 ± 0.36 on 19 reviews ($$)
West Cork Original Irish Whiskey: 8.01 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$)
Writers Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey: 8.49 ± 0.32 on 19 reviews ($$)

It certainly seems to be scoring better than those other entry-level whiskies – although of course, you can pay as much or a little more for an even higher scoring Irish whisky.

I recently managed to try this in a bar in Dublin. Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Almost sickly sweet, with a strong banana note (including green banana). Frankly, it could almost be a banana liquor. Dried fruit, with red berries in particular. Some citrus (orange peel). Vanilla. Hay. Unfortunately, I get a heavy acetone presence, which detracts for me.

Palate: ‎Honey dominates initially. Caramel adds to vanilla. Very ex-bourbon cask character. Cinnamon and nutmeg pick up now. Nutty. Seems lighter in mouth. Decent, but not a lot of character really.

Finish: Medium. First thing I notice lingering is the spice – a bit of pepper, light nutmeg. Caramel. A bit of sourness creeps in over time, but not bad.

I would consider this equivalent to Tullamore Dew in quality, and would rate them both the same at ~7.9 on the Meta-Critic scale.  Drinkable, but nothing too exciting. Seems to have more pot still influence than Jameson, and is also a definite step up from Bushmills Original. But at this price point, you can’t beat the value of Bushmills Black Bush (which remains my top pick for this entry-level Irish class)

The only truly positive review I’ve seen is from Jim Murray (who often scores entry-level blends higher than their more premium versions). Otherwise, the most generally positive reviews (relative for the class) are from Nathan the Scotchnoob, Josh the Whiskey Jug, and Michael of Diving for Pearls.  More typical are Jason of In Search of Elegance, Oliver of Dramming, Chip the Rum Howler, and Serge of Whisky Fun. Somewhat below average are Richard the Whiskey Reviewer and Ralfy.

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).

Oban Distillers Edition 2015

Following up on my Oban 14 year old review, here is an example of one of their annual Distillers Edition expressions. While there can be some variation from year to year, these are all pretty similar in style – and tend to be well received by whisky enthusiasts.

The particular vintage up for review here was released in 2015. It was distilled in 2000, and underwent a period of finishing in casks that had previously held Montilla Fino (a dry and pale variety of sherry). While not a common choice for finishing typically, it is the cask type that has been consistently used for Oban’s Distillers Edition for over a decade now.  The individual vintages are all around 14-15 years old. So you can expect pretty good consistency from year to year.

Bottled at 43% ABV. It sells for $140 CAD at the LCBO. I obtained a sample through a swap with the Redditor Throzen.

Here is how it compares to similar malts in my Meta-Critic Database:

Dalwhinnie Distillers Edition: 8.51 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 15yo Distillery Edition: 8.71 ± 0.27 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Glenkinchie Distiller’s Edition (all editions): 8.41 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Jura Prophecy: 8.67 ± 0.31 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Kilchoman Loch Gorm: 8.87 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Kilchoman Sanaig: 8.69 ± 0.25 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Oban 14yo: 8.51 ± 0.39 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Oban 18yo: 8.72 ± 0.19 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Oban 21yo: 9.02 ± 0.24 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Oban Distillers Edition (all vintages): 8.71 ± 0.21 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Oban Little Bay: 8.40 ± 0.38 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Old Pulteney 17yo: 8.76 ± 0.24 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Old Pulteney 21yo: 8.82 ± 0.45 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 18yo: 8.96 ± 0.17 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Talisker Distiller’s Edition (all editions): 8.92 ± 0.23 on 24 reviews ($$$$)
Talisker Skye: 8.43 ± 0.28 on 12 reviews ($$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Starts off with the classic Oban honey notes, followed by golden brown sugar. I can definitely detect the sherry notes, with golden raisins added to the usual apple/pear and grapes of Oban. A hint of smoke is here, but it seems subdued compared to the regular 14 yo release. Heather is prominent, joining the typical cut hay and floral notes. In some ways, this reminds of an even more lightly-peated Highland Park. There is some ethanol nose hair singe, which I don’t get on the 14yo. A decent nose overall.

Palate: Honey and salted caramel to start. Stewed mixed fruits, but with a dose of bitter earth cherries (ground cherries) added to the mix. Also golden raisins. Cinnamon and nutmeg. There is a bit of pepper here, giving it some kick. Slight bitterness on swallow, but dissipates quickly (reminds of dried paper glue).

Finish:‎ Medium length. Odd mix of bitter and sweet, frankly. Pear and apple re-surface, but the glue note lingers. Sticky residue on the gums, which is nice.

With a bit of water, you get sweeter caramel in mouth. I would say it benefits from a few drops.

Personally, I prefer the regular Oban14 yo. The Distillers Edition is well put together, but I find that it is just not that interesting or compelling for the style. There are plenty of other lightly sherried malts you can try instead – the Glenkinchie Distiller’s Edition (aka “Double Matured”) comes to mind.

Among reviewers, Elizabeth of the Whiskey Reviewer gives Distillers Edition top marks. Most reviewers are more moderate in their praise, including for the example Nathan the Scotch Noob, Michael of Diving of Pearls, and Ruben of Whisky Notes – all of whom rank Oban 14 yo higher (as I do). In contrast, Patrick of Quebec Whisky finds them about comparable, while Jim Murray and Serge of Whisky Fun both prefer the Distillers Edition over the 14 yo. No real negative reviews out there, Gavin of Whisky Advocate has given it a lower score than typical.

Oban 14 Year Old

Oban 14 year old is one of those classic single malts that everyone should try (in my view).

Oban is a Scottish distillery owned by whisky and drinks giant Diageo. It is located in the west coast port and fishing village of Oban. It was established in 1794 – even before the town of the same name, which sprung up later around it. It is an unusually small distillery for Scotland, as it has only only two pot stills – and relatively tiny ones at that.

Oban produces an unusual style of whisky, something of a hybrid between the dry, smokey style of the Scottish islands, and the lighter, sweeter malts of the Highlands. Diageo credits this to the relatively long fermentation process, and slow condensation – which happens in wooden worm tubs outside the distillery rooftops, exposed to the salted sea air.

The 14 year old expression has long been their standard release, along with an annual Distillers Edition and a few limited release longer-age versions. A couple of years ago, they released Oban Little Bay, a no-age-statement (NAS) expression likely intended to take some of the pressure off the age-stated line. But like many enthusiasts, Oban 14 yo was one of the first Scottish single malts that I had tried (after the ubiquitous Glenlivet and Glenfiddich expressions, of course). I tried it a few times again recently in my travels, for the purposes of this review.

Bottled at 43% ABV. Sold at a rather steep $110 CAD at the LCBO (but I’ve seen it for less in my travels).

Here is how it compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.64 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Glenkinchie 12yo: 8.24 ± 0.23 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.10 ± 0.22 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.30 on 22 reviews ($$$)
Jura 10yo Origin: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Jura Superstition: 8.27 ± 0.45 on 22 reviews ($$$)
Kilchoman 100% Islay (all editions): 8.73 ± 0.23 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kilchoman Machir Bay (all vintages): 8.78 ± 0.22 on 22 reviews ($$$$)
Oban 14yo: 8.51 ± 0.39 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Oban 18yo: 8.72 ± 0.19 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Oban 21yo: 9.02 ± 0.24 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Oban Distillers Edition (all vintages): 8.71 ± 0.21 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Oban Little Bay: 8.40 ± 0.38 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Old Pulteney 12yo: 8.44 ± 0.25 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Old Pulteney Navigator: 8.35 ± 0.36 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.70 ± 0.24 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank CV: 8.27 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Talisker 10yo: 8.87 ± 0.23 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Talisker Skye: 8.43 ± 0.28 on 12 reviews ($$)

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very honeyed, with some salted caramel notes. Apple, pear, green grapes and a few light berries. Touch of grapefruit. It is also unmistakably peated, with a fairly sweet peat aroma. Fresh smoke and a faint smell of old sweatsock (which is oddly pleasant). Freshly cut hay and field flowers. A bit more wood influence than Dalwhinnie 15yo, which is similarly honeyed and light (but less smokey). No real off notes, and even the ethanol seems subdued here. Very fresh and clean is how it comes across, almost delicate.

Palate: Honey remains the dominant note. Vanilla and that salted caramel again. Similar citrus note as the nose. Cereal and malt, with a baked goods character. Some wood spice, in the form of nutmeg and light cinnamon. No real smoke here, but it is slightly funky on the swallow (which is common enough on lightly peated malts). Mouthfeel is decent, with a slightly oily character. Easy drinking, though not as sweet as Dalwhinnie.

Finish: Fairly light and short. Light caramel and a bit of apple juice persist, along with a touch of that smokey funk. Really not much going on here, it’s a pretty gentle lead out. Perhaps a few of the oak spices persist, if you search for them.

Oban 14 whisky bottleFor me, the nose is the best part of this whisky, as it brings together all the Highland and coastal elements quite nicely. It is fine in the mouth, with decent character and moderate complexity – but perhaps still a bit on the simple side. The finish is disappointingly short and relatively plain.

An excellent introduction to single malts for newcomers to whisky. I would personally rate this whisky a little higher than the Meta-Critic average (and comparable to the Dalwhinnie 15yo at ~8.65).

Among reviewers, Nathan the Scotch Noob, Michael of Diving for Peals and Margarett of Whiskey Wash all give this expression top scores. It also does well with Ruben of Whisky Notes, Richard of Whiskey Reviewer, Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Serge of Whisky Fun. But it also garners a number of relatively low scores, including of Dave of Whisky Advocate, Jason of In Search of Elegance, Ralfy and Thomas of Whisky Saga. The lowest score I’ve seen comes from Jim Murray.

Worth seeking out if you haven’t tried it – or are a fan of more delicate single malts generally.

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.

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