Tag Archives: Peated

Smögen 4 Year Old Sherry Project 1:4

Following up on my inaugural Smögen review, I also received a sample of the Smögen Sherry Project 1:4 from Whisky Saga’s Thomas Øhrbom.

Smögen Sherry Project 1:4 is the fourth and final installment of the Smögen Sherry Project series. The earlier batches (1:1, 1:2 and 1:3) had limited – but increasing – finishing time in sherry casks. Sherry Project 1:4 is fully matured in first-fill sherry quarter casks, allowing collectors of the whole series to see how sherry finishing influences the final product.

Smögen Sherry Project 1:4 is a 4 year old whisky, and is bottled at cask strength (57.2% ABV). As is usual, the Smögen website has some background on information on this release, and the Sherry Project in general.

The Smögen Sherry Project 1:4 was distilled in July 2011, and bottled in August 2015.  Its entire storage life was spent in four Sherry quarter casks, of European oak. It was released in November 2015, and the entire 640 bottle official release sold out within a few minutes. In total there were 909 bottles from the out-turn (of 500 mL size). It was sold for 921 SEK (about $145 CAD).

Here is how various Swedish whiskies compare in my Meta-Critic Database:

Box Dálvve: 8.63 ± 0.28 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Box PX – Pedro Ximénez Finish: 8.90 ± 0.09 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.91 ± 0.05 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The Festival 2014: 8.94 ± 0.13 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Brukswhisky: 8.45 ± 0.60 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Moment Glöd: 8.84 ± 0.41 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Reserve Single Cask (various casks): 9.01 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 03: 8.69 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 04: 8.76 ± 0.35 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 05: 8.50 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 07: 8.51 ± 0.51 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Ek: 8.34 ± 0.23 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Rök: 8.71 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.65 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Smogen Primor: 8.50 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smogen Sherry Project 1:4: 8.82 ± 0.32 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Smogen Single Cask (all editions): 8.85 ± 0.13 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smogen Single Cask 4yo 7/2011: 8.94 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus: 8.60 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 1 Dubhe: 8.29 ± 0.42 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 2 Merak: 8.40 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 3 Phecda: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.58 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Spirit of Hven Urania: 8.55 ± 0.46 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Somewhat restrained nose, especially compared to the single cask Smogen I recently reviewed. The peat is there, along with some medicinal funk, but it is subtle. Light wood smoke. For fruits, mainly dried red fruits, some berries and a few raisins. Tobacco. Peanuts and pine nuts. I’m getting some of those conifer notes again, but mild.  It is nice, but a little shy.

Palate: Packs a heftier punch on the palate than the nose indicated, with immediate peat and wood smoke, as well as some ethanol heat (i.e., feels the 57.2% ABV here). Lots of caramel and vanilla. Tobacco again, and even more wood spice, plus the pepper and chilies that I found on the single cask sample. Mouthfeel is good, with a lingering syrupiness that just makes you want to hold it in your mouth. This is pleasant surprise from the restrained nose – a more substantial malt in the mouth.

Finish: Medium long. Syrupy sweet to start, then turns a bit bitter on the final finish (likely from the wood influence, which grows over time). Caramel and a bit of eucalyptus carry though as well. A bit of astringency also comes up at the very end.

With water, the nose opens up more, with the peat and wood smoke rising a bit. Water also seems to enhance the sweetness on the finish, giving it better balance. On the whole, this is one where I think a little water is necessary to get the best overall effect. You’ll need to experiment to find your sweet spot.

I know Smogen used Oloroso quarter casks for the first 1:1 release. The source is not stated for this 1:4 batch, but it strikes me as having more PX influence than Oloroso. There’s a lot of sherry sweetness here, and the underlying malt seems less peated than what when into the single cask expression I just reviewed.

It is a nice whisky, but in the end I still prefer the single cask sauternes barrique edition. This Sherry Project 1:4 is a bit less complex – but could therefore be an easier everyday sipper.

Jim Murray and Thomas of Whisky Saga both really liked this expression, and Serge of Whisky Fun gave it a very high score. Personally, I give it a lower score than the Meta-Critic average.

Smögen 4 Year Old Single Cask 7/2011

Smögen is an example of the new breed of “craft” whisky distillers setting up operations in Sweden. Established in 2009 by a young couple in the coastal region of Bohuslän, it is of course only recently that their whiskies have become available for sale (well, “available” is a relative term – available for those in-the-know in that part of the world).

BOX distillery (which I recently reviewed several whiskies from) is another Swedish craft distiller that has produced enough to start supplying some international markets (i.e., I’ve spotted them recently in Switzerland, and are even starting to show up here Canada). Smögen currently only has capacity for about 35,000 litres per year. So it will be some time before these show up more widely, I expect.

Check out their website for more info on their whiskies (Swedish-only at present). Thanks to Chrome’s auto-translate feature, I know that their focus is on whiskies that will be “powerful, smoky and of great character”, focusing on “quality in small batches, with full manual manufacturing and direct monitoring.”

While I’m generally not a fan of young whiskies, I was very impressed with what BOX has managed to do in a similar amount of time. I suspect part of the reason for this is the “accelerated aging” that comes from using smaller barrels (and in some cases re-constituted quarters casks or smaller), along with more extreme local temperature fluctuations.

I received a couple of samples of Smögen whisky from Whisky Saga’s Thomas Øhrbom is a swap earlier this year.

First up is a Smögen 4 Year Old Single Cask, laid down in 2011 (#7/2011). Bottled at cask strength of 57.3% ABV. This 4 year old Smögen whisky was fully matured in a first-fill Sauternes barrique cask. Sauternes is a French sweet wine made from white grapes of the Bordeaux region. Barriques (also known as Bordeaux barrels) are relatively tall and have a capacity of 225 litres.

The Smögen website has lots of info on this bottling. The malt batch for this barrel was based on the Optic barley strain, dried to at least 45 ppm phenol content. The whisky was distilled on March 11, 2011, and bottled on March 28th, 2015.  It was released in August of 2015, with limited Nordic/UK distribution (and immediately sold out). The total out-turn was 429 bottles of 500 mL size (so, not a lot of share for the Angels here!).

There aren’t many reviews of Smögen whiskies in my database, but here’s what I have so far (including for this single cask), relative to some other Swedish whiskies:

Box Dálvve: 8.63 ± 0.28 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Box PX – Pedro Ximénez Finish: 8.90 ± 0.09 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.91 ± 0.05 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The Festival 2014: 8.94 ± 0.13 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Brukswhisky: 8.45 ± 0.60 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Moment Glöd: 8.84 ± 0.41 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Reserve Single Cask (various casks): 9.01 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 03: 8.69 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 04: 8.76 ± 0.35 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 05: 8.50 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 07: 8.51 ± 0.51 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Ek: 8.34 ± 0.23 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Rök: 8.71 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.65 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Smogen Primor: 8.50 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smogen Sherry Project 1:4: 8.82 ± 0.32 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Smogen Single Cask (all editions): 8.85 ± 0.13 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smogen Single Cask 4yo 7/2011: 8.94 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus: 8.60 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 1 Dubhe: 8.29 ± 0.42 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 2 Merak: 8.40 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 3 Phecda: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.58 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Spirit of Hven Urania: 8.55 ± 0.46 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)

As an aside, all the information above was compiled after I did my tasting of the Smogen whisky samples. I didn’t even know Smogen used peated malt until after I opened the bottle (i.e., I like to approach these tastings blind).

Here is what I find the glass:

Nose: Sweet peat with a slight medicinal twist. Wood smoke. Main fruits are dark-skinned plums and grapes, plus some tropical “green” notes (papaya in particular). Very woody, but with dried spruce, juniper and other conifers in addition to the usual oak. Menthol, camphor. Reminds me of some Mackmyra expressions (i.e., very Swedish presentation, especially of the oak). Salt and pepper, with some exotic spices (miso?). Mild off notes, reminiscent of Islays (i.e., a bit funky). It is clear that this is a heavily peated whisky that has spent time in a concentrated sweet wine cask.

Palate: Very honeyed sweetness in the mouth. Honey is really the overwhelming initial characteristic (must be from the sauternes casks). This is followed by rich caramel and peat (producing an almost burnt caramel taste, thanks to the smoke). Those dark-skinned plums and grapes show up next. Chocolate. Traditional wood spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Anise. Pepper with a touch of chilli powder. Very luxurious mouthfeel, almost syrupy at 57.3%. But you can surprisingly still easily drink this one neat. A bit of bitterness creeps it after a few sips, but it is mild. Impressive presentation, lots going on here.

Finish: Long, with the woody characteristics coming back and lingering. A mix of chocolate and caramel, with the wood smoke there to round out.  Quite pleasant.

With water, the fragrant conifer notes are enhanced on the nose (frankly, it becomes a bit too woody, if you ask me). In the mouth, water doesn’t have much of an effect on the flavours, but it does lighten the mouthfeel. On the finish, it seems to enhance the burnt caramel. As a result, I recommend you drink this one neat for best effect. If do you try adding any water, go very sparingly.

An old trick I learned once is to hold a mouthful of water and then take a sip of whisky (all without swallowing). This tends to reveal the most dominant note, as the whisky immediately dilutes and warms in your mouth. In this case, honey was the key characteristic that I found here, followed by the peat. Goes to show you how a cask can dominate a distillate, even in a fairly young peated whisky.

A real in your face, balls-to-the-wall kind of whisky, with a few rough edges – but still very enjoyable. Not exactly an everyday sipper, but a great experience – and one that has me curious to try other Smogen whiskies.

Among reviewers, Jim Murray and Serge of Whisky Fun are both extremely positive on this single cask whisky. Thomas of Whisky Saga is more moderate in his score. My own assessment is somewhere in the middle of these three. Worth seeking out any of their single casks, if you get the chance.

Box Dálvve 5 Year Old

Dálvve is a significant release for Box distillery. Typically characterized as a “craft distiller,” this is the first whisky to form part of their core range. Released on November 7th, 2016, this whisky is slowly starting to appear in markets around the world. It is also the first whisky they have released in standard 700 mL bottles (up to now, everything has been 500 mL, I believe).

The name dálvve comes from the ancient language of the Sami people of northern Sweden and Norway, and means “winter.”  Very appropriate, given that Box is one of the most northerly distilleries in the world, located at 63° N. They also experience extreme fluctuations in temperature, which helps to accelerate the aging of their whisky (along with their use of rebuilt quarter casks and smaller custom casks – see my inaugural review from this distillery for more info).

As always, the Box website gives tons of info on this release.  As a whisky geek, I really appreciate the incredible level of detail they provide. But to summarize, for batch 1, the composition is:

  • 63.48% is 5.24 year old unpeated whisky from 200-litre 1st fill bourbon casks
  • 24.13% is 5.23 year old peated whisky from 200-litre 1st fill bourbon casks
  • 12.39% is 5.07 year old unpeated whisky from 135-litre 1st fill bourbon casks

Yeast was the Fermentis Safwhisky M-1. Ingoing barley was Tipple, Quench, Publican, Henley and Sebastian. Unpeated malt was Pilsner malt from Vikingmalt in Halmstad, Sweden. Peated malt was Pilsner malt from Castle Maltings in Belgium. Peated to 39ppm phenol content using Scottish peat (making the final blended mix lightly peated overall).

Batch size was 1.2 tonnes of malt, with an average fermenting time of 80 hours in stainless steel vats. Distilled between 2nd May 2011 and 27th September 2011. Website has tons of additional features on the distillation, including cuts from the still if you are curious (i.e. times for the foreshots, etc).

For aging, 200-litre bourbon barrels were obtained almost exclusively from Heaven Hill and Jack Daniels distilleries. The 135-litre quarter casks were re-built from bourbon barrels by Speyside Cooperage.  Up until October 2014, the casks were stored in a damp warehouse (and thus lost some of their relative alcoholic strength). From October 2014 to August 2016 they were stored in a drier environment in Box warehouse number 3.

On the 24th of October 2016, 6986kg of whisky with an average alcohol content of 59.54% were emptied into a blending vat. Alcohol content was adjusted to 46% at the time of bottling. Bottled between the 28th of October and 3rd of November 2016 in a series of 14,015 bottles. Dálvve is neither cold-filtered nor has colouring been added.

Currently, batch 2 is now available – but I managed to snag a bottle of the original batch 1 in my travels. Note that batch 2 uses slightly less peated malt than the original batch 1 presented here (again, full details on all batches are available on the website link above).

There aren’t many reviews of Box whiskies so far, but here is how it compares to some of the other major Swedish whiskies in the same price range:

Box Dálvve: 8.63 ± 0.28 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Box PX – Pedro Ximénez Finish: 8.90 ± 0.09 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.91 ± 0.05 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The Festival 2014: 8.94 ± 0.13 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Brukswhisky: 8.45 ± 0.60 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Moment Glöd: 8.84 ± 0.41 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 03: 8.69 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 04: 8.76 ± 0.35 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 05: 8.50 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 07: 8.51 ± 0.51 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Ek: 8.34 ± 0.23 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Rök: 8.71 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.65 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Smogen Primor: 8.50 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smogen Sherry Project 1:4: 8.68 ± 0.13 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus: 8.60 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 1 Dubhe: 8.29 ± 0.42 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 2 Merak: 8.40 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 3 Phecda: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.58 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

Again, you should treat all entries as provisional until at least 7-8 reviews are in. But these early reviews seem to slightly favour Box over their main Swedish competitors.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: One of the lightest malt whiskies I’ve seen. White gold in appearance.

Nose:  Lightly peated – there’s a hint of something vegetal and medicinal, but not a lot smoke.  Apple juice (Granny Smith) and lemon juice originally, followed by pears and green grapes. Something tropical, but I can’t place it. Vanilla and caramel. Just a bit grassy, with some oak influence (plus a bit of conifer). Hints of turpentine (but not bad). Well constructed, it reminds me a bit of some the decent lightly peated blends from Compass Box (i.e., Great King Street style blends). With water, I get a touch of old sweatsocks – kinda nice, actually.

Palate: Sweeter in the mouth, with barley sugar followed by caramel and vanilla. Also those oak spices – cinnamon in particular, plus some pepper. Sea salt. Little fruit, just a bit of apple and lemon juice again. The peat has a maritime characteristic, but is fairly subdued. Mouthfeel is a little watery for 46% ABV, but not bad. A bit of tongue tingle and ethanol heat, consistent with its young age. Slightly tannic tea, with a little bitterness on the way out. Water lightens the mouthfeel, but doesn’t really affect the heat or tingle. But water does bring in a white chocolate note – plus light honey, which is nice.

Finish: Medium-short. Its youth shows itself here – there is not really much complexity in the finish. Mainly salted caramel, oak spices and a light fruitiness (with that lemony citrus in particular). Just hint of wood smoke persists, but it otherwise doesn’t seem very peated. But no off notes, which is impressive for the age.

An easier sipper, nothing really to criticize here (except its relative youth). It is a bit light, compared to the higher-end offerings from Box. But certainly a lot better than Scapa Skiren or Bowmore Small Batch, if you have tried those entry-level peated malts. Something like the Hakushu 12 year old might be a good comparable for the style.

I’m glad they bottled Dalvve at 46% ABV. It does seem to benefit from just a few drops of water, though. For when you are in the mood for a gentle, lightly peated malt – clean and cleansing.

Jonny of Whisky Advocate is a huge fan of this whisky, giving it a top score. Thomas of Whisky Saga gives it a just below average score – which is where I would score it as well, given its youth and limited complexity. But great to see Box finally launching a core range – looking forward to more releases!

Compass Box Flaming Heart 2012 (4th Edition)

Compass Box makes a range of very popular scotch vatted malts and blends, with a careful attention to sourcing and blending.

Just a quick point of clarification – a vatted malt (now officially known as a blended malt) is a blend of pot-distilled malt whiskies from different distilleries. A single malt is blend of malt whiskies from a single distillery. And a blended scotch whisky is a blend of malt whisky and cheaper grain whisky distilled in a column still. See my Single Malts vs Blends page for more details. In practice, the only distinction between a blended malt and a single malt is the distillery source.

Compass Box has actually had five releases of Flaming Heart to date, commonly identified by year or by edition (release) number, beginning in 2006. In the case of two of these, they are also known as the Anniversary Editions, relative to the founding of Compass Box by John Glaser in 2000 (i.e., 10th Anniversary in 2010 and 15th in 2015). It can get a little confusing, as this differs from the numbering system of Peat Monster, which is similarly identified by Anniversary Editions every five years – but according to the initial release date in 2004.

When Flaming Heart was first launched, Compass Box provided the exact breakdown of what went into the malt blend on its website, which include aged malt from Caol Ila and Clynelish (among others), aged mainly in refill or “rejuvenated” ex-bourbon barrels with some French oak casks.

Eventually, a controversy erupted with the censure of Compass Box by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). The SWA is the trade organization that represents (and regulates) the Scotch whisky industry. This full composition disclosure by Compass Box fell afoul of the SWA regulation that requires only the youngest age of a whisky be publicly stated. As such, Compass Box was forced to relent from officially disclosing the composition of its whiskies these last few years.

There is actually a good reason for this SWA rule, as it prevents unscrupulous blenders from emphasizing a small contribution of a long-aged component to an otherwise youthful blend. But in this case, it is restricting Compass Box’s ability to be transparent on the full range of whiskies underlying their blended products. A number of distillers have joined with Compass Box in lobbying to get this regulation amended, but to no avail as yet.

So, all Compass Box says now for this 4th edition Flaming Heart is that the sourcing is single malt whiskies from distilleries located in the Northern Highlands (primary the village of Brora), Islay (primarily from the south shore of Islay), Speyside and Islands. The wood is a combination of refill American oak (ex-Bourbon), new French oak (heavily toasted) and sherry casks (which is a new twist for Flaming Heart). It is bottled at 48.9% ABV, and is non-chill-filtered with only natural colour.

Compass Box offerings typically get high ratings for their price points, and Flaming Heart is no different. Here is how it compares in my Meta-Critic Database to other peated Compass Box offerings, and similar lightly-peated Islay malts.

Big Peat: 8.80 ± 0.22 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 10yo Tempest: 8.82 ± 0.17 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 12yo: 8.40 ± 0.28 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore 18yo: 8.56 ± 0.46 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scottish Barley: 8.39 ± 0.44 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Islay Barley (all vintages): 8.58 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Ten: 8.83 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach: 8.81 ± 0.28 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain Toiteach: 8.59 ± 0.38 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Caol Ila 12yo: 8.72 ± 0.18 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Caol Ila 18yo: 8.66 ± 0.49 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Caol Ila 25yo: 8.88 ± 0.21 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Caol Ila 30yo: 9.30 ± 0.19 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition (all editions): 8.67 ± 0.38 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Clynelish 14yo: 8.81 ± 0.25 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Compass Box Eleuthera: 8.57 ± 0.39 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2008 2nd Edition: 9.07 ± 0.27 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2010 3rd Edition – 10th Anniversary: 8.92 ± 0.36 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2012 4th Edition: 8.98 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 5th Edition – 15th Anniversary: 9.03 ± 0.32 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart (all editions): 8.99 ± 0.27 on 19 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Lady Luck: 8.71 ± 0.42 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Peat Monster (all editions): 8.77 ± 0.27 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Compass Box The Lost Blend: 8.96 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box This is Not a Luxury Whisky: 8.77 ± 0.46 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Port Charlotte An Turas Mor: 8.71 ± 0.28 10 reviews ($$$$)
Port Charlotte PC10 Tro Na Linntean: 8.96 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated: 8.75 ± 0.26 on 15 reviews ($$$$)

Note that Flaming Heart just slips in at the low end of the $$$$$ price group, at ~$155 CAD (on average, world-wide).

My sample of the 4th edition comes from Redditor slackerdude.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: Very light straw, slightly golden hue.

Nose: Classic peated whisky notes with sweet peat, wood smoke, soot/ash and a slightly briny presentation – but not overly medicinal. Dried red fruits, especially berries and red currants, and light apple juice. Definite sourness, like gooseberries (i.e. ground cherries). Tons of lemon oil. Vanilla with a bit of caramel. Old leather. Grassy, with a touch of hay. A bit of cinnamon and some sea salt. Finally, just a touch of old sweatsock funk and bandaid glue (as is common to many southern Islays). Great nose.

Palate: Not quite as bold as I was expecting from the nose – but the peat is certainly more evident here. It just seems like the smokey notes have become more subtle in comparison. Some meatiness now, like the fat droppings on an extinguished campfire. Apple and berries, and even more lemon (the zest has been added). Caramel. Some oaky spice (chili?). A bit of pepper joins the cinnamon and sea salt. Great mouthfeel, slightly oily. It has a bit of that liquefied smoked meat taste that I sometimes find on older Islay bottlings, but it stills feels younger and fresher for the most part.

Finish: Medium-long for a light smokey blend. Peat and smoke linger. A slight herbal bitterness comes through eventually, but it is mild. That lemony citrus feels very cleansing on the way out.

On first whiff, this really brought back memories of some older lightly-peated Islays I’ve had (like the Coal Ila 30yo official bottling). However, this is rapidly joined by a number of more youthful characteristics, ending up more like the peated Glen Garioch 1995 Vintage (the lemon notes in particular are distinctive). Still very evocative and pleasant, this seems a bit younger overall than the reported mixes for earlier Flaming Hearts. But this is still a good bargain for a such a quality presentation.

Water lightens the nose, and enhances the caramel sweetness in the mouth. I don’t think it needs any, but adjust as you prefer. My only minor complaint here is the finish – while nice, it could be a bit longer and more robust. After this, I’m curious to try some other editions.

The highest score I’ve seen for this 4th edition of Flaming Heart comes from Serge of Whisky Fun, with similarly very high scores from Jim Murray, Dominic of Whisky Advocate and the guys at Quebec Whisky (I am closest to this camp). Also fairly positive on this edition are Jan of Best Shot Whisky and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. The lowest rating I’ve seen is an overall average score from Thomas of Whisky Saga.  To see additional reviews of the more recent 2015 5th Edition (15th Anniversary), check out Jason of In Search of Elegance, Ralfy, Nathan the Scotch Noob and Ruben of Whisky Notes. Honestly, there are no negative reviews of any edition of this whisky, it is a great buy.

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016 Madeira Cask

Càirdeas means friendship in Gaelic, and this is the name given to an annual special release associated with the Friends of Laphroaig. Pronunciation is a bit trickier than usual on this one, as I’ve heard everything for car-chus to care-chase (to kier-das to cord-dis, etc.). I guess it depends on where exactly you are from.

Released annually at Fèis Ìle – the Islay Festival of Music and Malt – there is a different theme behind each year’s bottling. The 2016 edition is a no-age-statement (NAS) Laphroaig, originally matured in ex-bourbon barrels, with a second maturation in Madeira-seasoned traditional hogsheads.

Madeira is a Portugeuse fortified wine that, like Port, comes in dry, semi-dry/sweet and sweet forms. What’s different about Madeira is the “Estufagem” process of cask maturation – a special heat and moisture treatment that is meant to replicate the historical journey of Madeira casks in the early days of seafaring trade. By law, this now involves cooking the wine at 55°C for at least 90 days (but see comments from Jason Hambrey below). This accelerated aging of the wine has the side effect of also impregnating the wood staves of the casks with a lot of spiciness and fruit flavours. As a result, most would consider Madeira cask-aged whiskies to be sweet and fruity, regardless of the source form of Madeira used.

Bottled at an impressive 51.2% ABV, this limited edition Laphroaig is quite reasonably priced at $100 CAD at the LCBO (I got mine early, before they all disappeared).

Here is how the various Cairdeas expressions compare to each other, and the standard Laphroaigs, in my Meta-Critic Database:

Laphroaig 10yo: 8.87 ± 0.24 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength: 8.96 ± 0.35 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig 15yo (200th Anniversary): 8.80 ± 0.29 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig An Cuan Mor: 8.87 ± 0.14 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2013 Port Wood: 8.83 ± 0.46 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2014 Amontillado: 8.95 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2015: 9.16 ± 0.17 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016 Madeira: 8.83 ± 0.42 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Lore: 8.62 ± 0.32 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Laphroaig PX Triple Matured: 8.81 ± 0.57 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig QA Cask: 7.27 ± 0.56 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Laphroaig Quarter Cask: 8.31 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Select: 8.04 ± 0.36 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Laphroaig Triple Wood: 8.70 ± 0.34 on 17 reviews ($$$$)

Perhaps not surprisingly, the 2016 Madeira-finished Laphroaig has a similar average score (and variance) as the 2013 Port-finished edition. Average scores for these special bottlings are toward the higher end of the range of Laphroaigs in this price range.

Here’s what I find in the glass:

Colour: Definitely a wine-cask finish, with a lot red hues (though otherwise light).

Nose: Sweet, with some of the classic Laphroaig peat reek buried below the fruit (pear, apricot and a bit of cherry and raspberry). A bit citrusy too. Vanilla. Not as medicinal as I would have expected for a Laphroaig (seems to be overwhelmed by the fruit). A touch floral (herbal?). With water, caramel joins the vanilla.

Palate: Not as fruity, except in a general light fruit and citrus sense (fruit seems mainly on the nose). Honey.  Butterscotch. Spicy notes, with black pepper. Briny, like salted cod. A touch of wet cardboard. Slightly creamy texture (nice mouthfeel, actually). With water, the oakiness picks up, as well as the sweetness. Caramel and brown sugar are added to the mix.

Laphroaig.Cairdeas.2016Finish: Long. Sweet peat again, like the nose. Smoke lingers, as well as some ash. The classic Laphroaig medicinal notes finally poke through, along with a slight sourness. But the sweetness lasts the longest (surprisingly).

I must admit, this is a bit of strange one. Not sure how much demand there is for a such a sweetened Laphroaig. Honestly, I wouldn’t have pegged this as a Laphroaig at all, until that finish settled in. I suspect it would appeal more to a classic Lagavulin 16 drinker. Those looking for a medicinal peat bomb will likely be disappointed. But I kind of like it (possibly because I’m not a heavy peat fan, as you might have guessed).

The highest score I’ve seen for this expression comes from Josh the Whiskey Jug. Also very positive are Serge of Whisky Fun, My Annoying Opinions, Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky, and Thomas of Whisky Saga. A more average score comes from Nathan the Scotch Noob. The only really low score I’ve seen comes from Dave of Whisky Advocate.

Säntis Appenzeller Single Malt Edition Dreifaltigkeit

After a rather disappointing introduction to Säntis Appenzeller Malt through their base Edition Sigel, I was encouraged by the wine cask-finished Edition Himmelberg.

Next up – and last in my series of Santis expressions – is Edition Dreifaltigkeit. This is the whisky that Jim Murray named his “European Whisky of the Year” in 2010, with an incredibly high 96.5 score. But as I’ve explained in my review of his 2016 Whisky of the Year (Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye) there are some interesting inconsistencies in how he applies his scores at the high end.

Dreifaltigkeit means Trinity in German, and this whisky apparently gets its name from a local Swiss mountain peak. This whisky is supposedly “lightly peated,” but most would agree it packs a heavy smokey punch. Apparently, the malt is smoked in multiple ways – first wood-smoked in beech and oak woods, then re-smoked with local peat from the Appenzell Highmoor. I do like the attention to sourcing local materials with Santis.

Note that Edition Dreifaltigkeit appears to be the same as the earlier Santis Cask Strength Peated. These whiskies share the same description and cask strength (52% ABV), and some reviewers use a picture of the older name in their reviews of Dreifaltigkeit. As such, I have combined all the reviews for these two whiskies in the same category for my Meta-Critic database:

Säntis Alpstein (all editions): 8.59 ± 0.12 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Säntis Edition Sigel: 7.94 ± 0.86 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Säntis Edition Säntis: 7.57 ± 0.84 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Säntis Edition Dreifaltigkeit / Cask Strength Peated: 7.37 ± 1.67 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt: 8.59 ± 0.48 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)

Edition Dreifaltigkeit earns a dubious distinction in my Meta-Critic database – this is is more variable scoring whisky I’ve ever seen! The average standard deviation for all whiskies in my database is currently 0.37.  So the ± 1.67 here (based on 9 reviews) is pretty shocking.  These means that there is an extremely high level of disagreement among reviewers of this whisky. Not surprisingly, this also means the overall average score is low – indeed, in this case it is far below the database overall average of ~8.5.

Let’s see what I find in the glass.  Note again that I sampled this whisky before checking for reviews to add to my database, so I really had no expectations going in (other than the mixed experiences on Editions Sigel and Himmelberg). The 50 mL sample bottle cost ~$11 CAD in Zurich.

Colour: Much darker than even Himmelberg, with rich mahogany notes. Reminds me of some of the wine cask-aged tropical malts, like Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask or Amrut Portonova.

Nose: Oh dear Lord, no. Smokey, but in an extinguished cigarette sort of way, acrid. And very fishy! I could most kindly describe this as Teriyaki-glazed salmon – but only if you are trying to rescue a week-day old salmon fillet by drowning it in soy sauce. Dried nori and tobacco. Asian green tea (specifically, the slightly fishy-smelling kind you get in Japan, not China). The skunkiness from the Sigel is amplified here, with additional fresh glue notes – this is a simply horrible combination of smells. Frankly, I don’t want to put this in my mouth, it literally makes me feel like retching. Oh well, time to take one for the team I guess.

Palate: Very smokey, but not as acrid as the nose suggested (more wood smoke now instead of cigarette). Sweeter than I expected from the nose too, with brown sugar and a velvety chocolate note that is surprising. BBQ sauce. Tobacco, which is giving it a very bitter aftertaste on the way down. Not much alcohol burn for 52% ABV – you could easily drink this neat (if you were inclined to drink it at all). Not good, but not as bad as the nose indicated.

Finish: Too long. The fishiness returns, and lingers for a very long time (as bad fish is wont to do). Very smokey. Fortunately, the bitterness fades a bit with time, making this not a completely horrible experience – but still not a good one.  Now you’ll forgive while I go and brush my teeth and tongue …

This is a whisky you would be better off drinking with a clothespin over your nose.  There is really nothing to recommend it in terms of smell. Boxing coaches could use it instead of smelling salts. At least it is not as horrific in the mouth, with the predominant sweet wood smoke and BBQ notes (think mesquite).

With water, the nose is mercifully flattened a little, but it is still a unpleasant experience. Water brings up the sweetness in the mouth slightly.  You will want to try a bit of water – if you want to try this whisky at all.

I don’t know how to score this whisky. It is a new low for me, so I’m in uncharted territory here. I would have to give it below 6 on the common alcoholic beverage rating scale (i.e., every commercial whisky begins with default of 5, but anything below 6 should be avoided). Maybe high 5s, since there are some redeeming virtues on the palate, if you can get past that nose.

To say reviewers are divided on this one is an understatement. It gets the absolute lowest score for any whisky in my database from Thomas of Whisky Saga and three well-known Reddit reviewers (cake_my_day, TOModera and Shane_IL) – a view I personally share. It gets a slightly below average score from Serge of Whisky Fun. Dominic of Whisky Advocate has reviewed it twice (under each name) – one got a high score, and one a very low score. It gets a moderately positive review from Nathan the Scotch Noob. Two really positive reviews of this whisky are Jan of Best Shot Whisky and Jim Murray. Certainly a polarizing experience!

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.

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