Tag Archives: Scottish

Bunnahabhain 14 Year Old 2003 Pedro Ximenez Finish

This is a limited edition bottling from Bunnahabhain – a Scottish distillery, located on the north-east coast of Islay. Their standard 18 year old bottling is one of my favourites for the style – which, surprisingly for Islay, is unpeated. But the coastal environment helps brings in some unique features, which combine well with Bunnahabhain signature oily, flavourful character.

Bunnahabhain releases limited editions somewhat irregularly – the last was an Oloroso cask finish in 2016, I believe. This release is a 14 year old single malt, distilled in 2003. It was initially aged in second-fill Oloroso sherry casks until 2011, at which point it was transferred into first-fill Pedro Ximénez casks. It was bottled in late 2017 at cask-strength, 54.3% ABV in this case.

Only 6768 bottles were produced, released in most jurisdictions in early 2018. I was lucky to come across the release of a single case at World of Whiskies in Calgary, Alberta in late March of this year – and promptly picked up two bottles for $180 CAD each, on discount ($200 list price, tax in). As you can imagine, these sold out fast! I’ve recently opened bottle #2389.

Here is how this limited release compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database to other Bunnas:

Bunnahabhain 12yo: 8.66 ± 0.26 on 24 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain 14yo 2003 Pedro Ximenez Finish: 8.91 ± 0.74 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Bunnahabhain 18yo: 8.98 ± 0.20 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Bunnahabhain 25yo: 8.88 ± 0.32 on 17 reviews ($$$$$+)
Bunnahabhain 40yo: 9.14 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach: 8.79 ± 0.29 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain Cruach Mhona: 8.31 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Darach Ur: 8.40 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Eirigh Na Greine: 8.44 ± 0.46 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain Moine (all bottlings): 8.64 ± 0.60 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Stiuireadair: 8.44 ± 0.37 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Toiteach: 8.58 ± 0.37 on 16 reviews ($$$$)

In terms of average score, it compares pretty well to the standard age-stated line of Bunnahabhain. But that’s a noticeably higher-than-usual standard deviation, indicating some pretty variable opinions on this one. Let’s see how it compares to some similar cask-strength sherry bombs:

Aberlour A’Bunadh (all batches): 8.95 ± 0.15 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain 14yo 2003 Pedro Ximenez Finish: 8.91 ± 0.74 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (all batches): 8.92 ± 0.15 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfarclas 105: 8.72 ± 0.35 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Glengoyne Cask Strength (all batches): 8.64 ± 0.46 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Macallan Cask Strength: 8.94 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan Classic Cut: 8.78 ± 0.19 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)

This Bunnahabhain Limited Release scores comparably to the best cask-strength offerings of competitors.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: Rich, dark gold with some light mahogany hues.

Nose: PX sherry dominates on the nose – this is a super sweet one. Molasses, caramel. Red fruits, dark berries, raisins and red grapes. Lemon cake. Candy cane. Faint hint of anise. Nutty. Classic Bunna funk (like an extinguished campfire). Sea salt. Fabulous nose if you like them sweet. No off notes.

Palate: Dark brown sugar, demerara sugar. Thick and syrupy. Caramel and red berries again. Cherry compote pie filling – complete with the buttery pastry shell as well. Chocolate shavings. Cinnamon. Oaky wood. Tobacco and coffee grinds. Goes down smooth. Slight astringency on the swallow.

Finish: Medium long. Candy-like notes are the most prominent, with brown sugar and caramel that linger (very chocolate bar-like). Light cinnamon. Sticky residue on lips and gums. Lemon returns, as does the nuttiness at the end.

With water, brown sugar now becomes very apparent on the nose. Fruits are enhanced in the mouth, which I appreciate – so I definitely recommend a few drops. But further water brings up the cinnamon and oaky notes (with some bitterness), and lightens the mouthfeel, so be careful here.

To call this a dessert dram is an understatement – it is a heavy assault of liquefied brown sugar! Personally, I prefer it over some of the batched sherry bombs that contain a mix of Oloroso/PX cask-aged whiskies, like the recent Glendronach Cask Strength batches.

Among reviewers, my stable of Reddit reviewers were generally extremely positive, giving it top scores – starting with theslicknick6, followed by MajorHop, HawkI84, Unclimbability, Strasse007 and WildOscar66. A below average score was given by throwboats (and a few others on the site). There aren’t many other reviews out there, but it gets a slightly above average score from Ruben of Whisky Notes and Gavin of Whisky Advocate. It gets an extremely low score from My Annoying Opinions (which frankly seems a bit bizarre).

Clearly, this is a whisky with some variable perspectives. Personally, I’m more in-line with Strasse007 and WildOscar66 above – I think this is a very nice whisky for this class. I think the Meta-Critic average is fair, especially relative to the Bunnahabhain 18 yo. I’m glad to have a bottle (and a spare) of this limited release.

Famous Grouse

Ah, Famous Grouse – probably one of the most ubiquitous blended scotch whiskies you can find in this world. A basic, standard-price blended Scotch, its main competitors in the UK are Bell’s, Dewar’s, Grant’s and Teacher’s. Its emblem is the Red Grouse, Scotland’s national game bird.

First produced by Matthew Gloag & Son in 1896, it is currently produced and owned by the Edrington Group. The single malt whiskies used in the Famous Grouse blend are believed to include Edrington-owned Highland Park and Macallan. The brand has expanded in recent years to include at least half a dozen variants (e.g. Black Grouse, Snow Grouse, etc).

The blend is matured in oak casks for up to six months at 46% ABV, and then bottled at the industry standard 40%.

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

Ballantine’s Finest: 7.61 ± 0.62 on 12 reviews ($)
Bell’s Original: 7.57 ± 0.69 on 8 reviews ($)
Chivas Regal 12yo: 7.79 ± 0.44 on 23 reviews ($$)
Cutty Sark: 7.54 ± 0.45 on 15 reviews ($)
Dewar’s White Label: 7.60 ± 0.70 on 16 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse: 7.62 ± 0.54 on 20 reviews ($)
Famous Grouse Gold Reserve 12yo: 8.47 ± 0.31 on 10 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse Smoky Black (Black Grouse): 7.94 ± 0.44 on 21 reviews ($$)
Famous Jubilee: 8.13 ± 0.16 on 3 reviews ($$)
Grant’s Family Reserve: 7.71 ± 0.64 on 14 reviews ($)
J&B Rare: 6.96 ± 1.11 on 13 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.43 ± 0.61 on 23 reviews ($)
Whyte & Mackay Special Reserve: 7.47 ± 0.45 on 7 reviews ($)
Teacher’s Highland Cream: 7.95 ± 0.73 on 11 reviews ($)

Teacher’s seems to be the stand-out in this entry level ($) scotch blend category, with Famous Grouse falling in with the pack mentioned above.

A standard 750 mL bottle sells for $31 CAD at the LCBO. I picked up a miniature bottle in my travels (Brussels, Belgium in this case). Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: The grain alcohol hits you first, followed by a vaguely creamy note (condensed milk?). Once you get passed that, you move on to light toffee notes and dried fruits, which are fairly pleasant. Dried, pressed flowers too. Lemon candies. Arrowroot baby cookies. Fair amount of solvent notes, unfortunately (especially glue).  About what you could expect for a standard blend, but decent – especially on the mid-nose.

Palate: More going on here than I expected, and not all of it good.  Initially very grain forward, reminding of some single grain whiskies (Bain’s Cape and Nikka Coffey Grain, for example). Simple sweetness, with light fruits – and that creaminess again (likely from the malt whisky). Mid palate turns sour however, which is distracting. Some light nutmeg and cinnamon notes come in next, and help rescue the flavour experience a bit. Lemon notes return at the end, along with the glue from the nose unfortunately. No real heat, about what you would expect for 40% ABV.

Finish: Medium. Grain alcohol initially dominates here again, with a fairly dull presentation – but the finish is longer than I expected, with some sweet maltiness increasing over time. Light touches of fruit and baking spices linger in the background.

There’s actually more going on here than I expected – this is more complicated (I wouldn’t say complex) than most blends at this price point. No overly strong flavours, but not bland either. So if you can get over the off-notes, it might be a decent choice as a budget mixer.

Among reviewers, the only ones to give it an overall average score are Jim Murray and Patrick of Quebec Whisky. After that, most scores are pretty low, starting with Serge of Whisky Fun. Everyone else typically gives it in the bottom 10% of their catalogue, including Jan of Best Shot Whisky, Josh the Whiskey Jug, and Nathan the ScotchNoob. The lowest scores come from Thomas of Whisky Saga, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and Michael of Diving for Pearls.

 

Scapa Skiren

Being a big fan of the other Orkney island distillery (Highland Park), I’ve been curious to try a Scapa release. Literally right down the road from HP, this second-most-Northerly distillery in Scotland produces a relatively gentle and honeyed based spirit, considered to be lightly-peated.

Originally founded in 1885, it was acquired in the 1950s by classic Canadian whisky producer Hiram Walker & Sons Ltd. Now part of the Pernod Ricard spirits empire, Scapa was shuttered between 1994 and 2004. While a number of age-statement releases were released upon re-opening, for the last several years the no-age-statement Scapa Skiren  has been the distillery’s standard bottling.

Scapa’s website says they consider Skiren to be “the honeyed tropical one because of its smooth, creamy sweetness with a hint of tropical fruit, citrus and coastal heather.” It is exclusively matured in first-fill American oak (so, ex-bourbon barrels).

Bottled at 40% ABV. It currently retails for $80 CAD at the LCBO.

Let’s see how it compares to others in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database.

Arran Malt Machrie Moor Peated: 7.92 ± 0.55 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 10yo Curiositas: 8.61 ± 0.28 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Islay Barley: 8.57 ± 0.20 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.65 ± 0.35 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Highland Park 10yo: 8.52 ± 0.26 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo: 8.64 ± 0.23 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Jura 10yo Origin: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Jura 12yo Elixir: 8.32 ± 0.45 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Jura Superstition: 8.29 ± 0.45 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park Magnus: 8.64 ± 0.17 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Oban 14yo: 8.49 ± 0.37 on 23 reviews ($$$$)
Oban Little Bay: 8.36 ± 0.39 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Scapa 16yo: 8.29 ± 0.29 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Scapa Skiren: 7.96 ± 0.56 on 12 reviews ($$$$)

I sampled this single malt from my brother’s bottle.

Nose: Sweet peat, with light smoke. Sickly-sweet honeysuckle (honeyed indeed!). Standard pear and apple. Maybe a touch of pineapple. Very basic, not a lot going on here. I’m detecting some youthful organic notes, but the light peat helps to obscure these somewhat.

Palate: Incredibly sweet arrival, with very simple sugar and light honey. Pear. Lemon peels. Buttered toast. Very light mouthfeel. Not getting a lot of wood spices, beyond standard nutmeg and a bit of cinnamon. Very little evidence of the peat now. Seems pretty tame (and dull, to be honest).

scapa-skirenFinish: Not much of one. Apple juice and some Juicy Fruit gum linger, with some very light oak spice. A touch of smoke returns at the end, but is subtle. Unfortunately some oak bitterness creeps in over time, detracting on the way out.

Sad to say, but I find this to be a very forgettable whisky – there is nothing that really stands out for me. There is just too little character. That said, it is not particularly offensive, and I don’t get a lot of off-notes. I suppose it could be a decent palate opener, before trying more sophisticated whiskies in an evening.

Among reviewers, the highest score I’ve seen comes from Richard of the Whiskey Reviewer, followed by Jim Murray. Generally positive (though with lower scores) are Serge of Whisky Fun and Jan of Best Shot Whisky. But I’m personally in the camp of Thomas of Whisky Saga, Oliver of Dramming, Gavin of Whisky Advocate and the boys at Quebec Whisky. Just not enough character for me to recommend, especially for the price. You are best sticking with an entry-level HP.

Cragganmore 12 Year Old

Cragganmore is part of Diageo’s Classic Malts series. This is where they select one distillery from each geographical region of Scotland (from among their stable of distilleries) to showcase the “classic” malt style of that region. Cragganmore specifically represents the Speyside region in this case – which is traditionally thought of as relatively gentle malts.

As I explain on my Single Malt vs. Blends page, this historical classification based on geography simply isn’t very relevant any more (if it ever was). The traditional production methods used in different regions can (and often are) adjusted today to suit a range of modern styles. This allows each distillery to offer a wide range of diverse products, to appeal to different tastes.

At any rate, at least it helps save some of the output of these distilleries from being poured (literally) into Diageo’s behemoth blending operation. Cragganmore is believed to be one of the principal malts in Johnnie Walker Black Label, as well as Old Parr.

The distillery was opened by a former manager of both Macallan and Glenlivet, John Smith, in 1869. It draws water from Craggan Burn, off the River Spey. Their main claim to fame is the distinctive flat-topped design of their spirit stills (as opposed to the more common elongated necks of their competitors). This is supposed to produce a particularly “sweet and complex” base spirit, according to Diageo.

This official bottling of the distillery’s 12 year old malt is reported to come exclusively from refill bourbon casks. I’ve also seen some reports online that some portion of it comes from sherried casks, but I find that hard to believe after sampling (see tasting notes below).

Bottled at the industry minimum standard of 40% ABV. I picked up a 200 mL bottle for ~$25 CAD when passing through Norway last year. Currently $67 CAD for a 750 mL bottle at the LCBO.

Here is how it compares to other relatively gentle malts in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, of similar price:

AnCnoc 12yo: 8.62 ± 0.32 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt 10yo: 8.52 ± 0.30 on 22 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 10yo: 8.56 ± 0.16 on 12 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 12yo: 8.43 ± 0.25 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.28 ± 0.26 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Cardhu 12yo: 8.08 ± 0.47 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Cragganmore 12yo: 8.35 ± 0.29 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Cragganmore 25yo: 9.03 ± 0.06 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Cragganmore NAS (Special Release 2016): 8.79 ± 0.62 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Craigellachie 13yo: 8.41 ± 0.56 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.65 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Grant 10yo: 8.27 ± 0.46 on 9 reviews ($$)
Glen Grant 12yo: 8.33 ± 0.52 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Glen Moray 12yo: 8.05 ± 0.29 on 13 reviews ($$)
Glencadam 10yo: 8.46 ± 0.43 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.10 ± 0.22 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.30 on 22 reviews ($$$)
Glenmorangie 10yo: 8.48 ± 0.43 on 25 reviews ($$$)
Kilkerran 12yo: 8.88 ± 0.28 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Tamdhu 10yo: 8.30 ± 0.58 on 18 reviews ($$$$)

Where is what I find in the glass:

Nose: I get a strong apple juice note to start, then light honey, vanilla and some caramel. Also some canned pear. Vaguely floral, I get heather and hay most noticeably. A bit malty, with a touch of Graham cracker. Light smoke, with a bit of vegetal funk (that last one is surprising for a classic Speyside). A nice combo overall.  Reminds me a bit of Oban 14 year old.

Palate: Cream and honey to start, then caramel and vanilla notes. Apple and pear again. Malty, with Graham cracker notes. Not as much smoke as the nose suggested, but there is a little something here tingling the taste buds. A vague nuttiness. Some oak spice. Would be nice at higher strength, but ‎actually quite drinkable as is. Some bitterness builds at end of the palate (bitter almonds).

Finish: Medium length (and longer than most gentle whiskies). Smoke residue lingers, along with some bitter almonds. Peppery too now, wasn’t getting that before. A bit of fruit returns at the end. Nice, easy finish.

This is quite sippable. I’m not really getting any sherry notes here, but it is a well executed malt for the style. Personally, I would put this at least on par with An Cnoc 12. It is not at the level of Oban 14 or Dalwhinnie 15, but the touch of smoke here really helps add character (and bring up its score).

In my view, Cragganmore 12 Year Old is a good one to try soon after starting out with single malts, once you have sampled the ubiquitous Glenlivet/Glenfiddich 12. Like with the Oban and Dalwhinnie, this is a whisky where I think you will appreciate the extra character it brings over the common entry-level expressions.

The highest scores I’ve seen for this malt comes from Nathan the Scotch Noob and Andre of Quebec Whisky. Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Dave Broom of Whisky Advocate are also generally positive. More typical (and more in keeping with my own assessment) are Ralfy and Serge of Whisky Fun. Relatively low scores come from Jason of In Search of Elegance, Jim Murray, Richard of Whiskey Reviewer, and Thomas of Whisky Saga.

 

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.

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.

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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