Tag Archives: Scottish

Timorous Beastie Blended Malt

Timorous Beastie is another member of the Remarkable Regional Malts series produced by Douglas Laing, an independent bottler of Scottish malt whisky. I previously reviewed the Speyside-derived Scallywag (and was not much of a fan). But when I recently saw a bottle of Timorous Beastie on sale, I picked it up thinking it might be worth a try, based on the reported flavour profile and reviews.

As previously described, Douglas Laing has been around since 1948, and has an extensive range of single malt bottlings. But the company is perhaps best known for this series of blended malts (aka, vatted malts), based on defined regions of Scotland. Produced in small batches, these no-age-statement (NAS) whiskies have creative labels and quirky names, including Scallywag, Timorous Beastie, Rock Oyster, The Epicurean, and Big Peat.

Many have also been released in limited age-stated versions as well. Interestingly, the 10 year old version of Timorous Beastie is typically cheaper than this NAS version in many markets (i.e., at the LCBO, it is $60 CAD for the 10yo vs $70 CAD for the NAS). I’ve seen the standard NAS version run quite a bit higher in other parts of Canada, so when I found it for $56 CAD on clearout at a local store, it seemed worth the gamble.

Timorous Beastie blended malt is sourced from several Highland distilleries, including Blair Athol, Dalmore, Glen Garioch, and Glengoyne. The title is in reference to the Robert Burns poem “To a Mouse,” which describes his thoughts after accidentally upending its nest when plowing a field (which also gave us his famous musings about how “the best laid schemes of Mice and Men” often go awry).

Bottled at 46.8% ABV (for some reason), this whisky is non-chill-filtered, with natural colour – all well appreciated by this reviewer. My bottle is dated from November 2017, with a batch 13 code.

Here is how Timorous Beastie compares to the rest of the Douglas Laing line, and some similar entry-level Highland malts from which it is apparently derived.

Big Peat: 8.72 ± 0.26 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Scallywag: 8.22 ± 0.55 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Timorous Beastie: 8.39 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Timorous Beastie 18yo: 8.62 ± 0.31 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Timorous Beastie 21yo Sherry Edition: 9.05 ± 0.21 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Timorous Beastie 40yo Cask Strength: 8.98 ± 0.28 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)

Blair Athol 12yo (F&F): 8.43 ± 0.43 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore 12yo: 8.42 ± 0.28 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore Valour: 8.05 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Garioch 12yo: 8.67 ± 0.30 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve: 8.38 ± 0.35 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Glengoyne 10yo: 8.26 ± 0.31 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Glengoyne 12yo: 8.54 ± 0.34 on 12 reviews ($$$)

And now what I find in the glass:

Colour: One of the lightest whiskies I’ve come across, very pale apple juice colour

Nose: Very sweet, and candied. Gummy bears and pear drops. Strong fruit notes of pear, apricot, and tangerine. Honey and a little maple syrup. Nutty, with a slightly rancid salty peanut aroma. Hint of smoke, but comes across more as funky, sour and somewhat rancio. Definite sherry influence, despite the light colour. This is very nice, and exactly what I was hoping for.

Palate: Honey and gummy candy sweet initially, followed by an immediate zing of cinnamon redhot candies (plus allspice, cloves and black pepper). Yowza. But the shock of spices doesn’t continue to burn, it just slowly fades. Whatever fruits were present on the nose are lost by the quick spice arrival, but it does have a citrusy cleansing vibe. Also a bit woody, and a touch of anise. The funky smoke note wafts back up at the end, after the swallow.

Finish: Lovely lingering burn. Honey and apple juice come up at the end. Also getting those powdered gelatinous gummy candies you find in Asia – not as sweet as the usual gummies in North America, and with a touch of sourness. Astringent (drying) finish.

A very nice, powerful hit of spice, wrapped in a sweet confectionery coating. Seems like a real misnomer of a name, as this is in no way shy or retiring. I would say Blair Athol and old-style Glen Garioch dominate here. Not overly complex, but a fun sipping experience. I’m curious to try the age-stated versions now.

Among reviewers, the highest score comes from Serge of Whisky Fun, who gives it an above-average score and review (and one I concur with). This would be followed by the generally positive reviews of Thomas of Whisky Saga, Jonny of Whisky Advocate, Shane_IL of Reddit, and Jan of Best Shot Whisky. Lower scores come from Aaron of Whiskey Wash, Strasse007 of Reddit, and Josh the Whiskey Jug.

Ben Nevis 10 Year Old (2019)

Ben Nevis is probably not a particularly well-known single malt among younger whisky drinkers (certainly here in North America). The distillery is currently owned by Japanese whisky-maker Nikka, and a lot of Ben Nevis’ production presumably finds its way into blended Nikka whiskies. There have been a number of independent bottlings of Ben Nevis, but official bottlings (OB) are relatively uncommon – beyond the standard 10 year old version reviewed here. And even this bottle can be hard to find, for reasons I’ll get into in a moment.

The Nikka connection is interesting. As an unusual quirk of Japanese labeling laws, international spirits can be included in blended Japanese whisky without being identified as such. I don’t know for sure which Nikka bottlings include Ben Nevis distillate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of the Pure Malt range (like White and Black) do, and perhaps even the Premium Blended 12yo.

The standard 10yo OB of Ben Nevis has a bit of a checkered past. It is known to suffer considerable batch variability (perhaps due to the limited availability of stock). In April 2017, the label was redesigned, and I noticed reviews improved considerably from this point on. As such, I now separate reviews pre/post the 2017 packaging redesign.

There’s actually been a bit of buzz in the whisky world lately on Ben Nevis, due to Koloman’s post earlier this year on Whiskybase.com for the limited-release 10yo cask-strength version of this whisky. If he does accurately convey the experience of Ben Nevis’ managing director, it seems like a pretty grim situation for the distillery’s stocks.

Whatever the current situation, I can only assume things have stabilized a bit, given the recent return of the modern 46% ABV 10yo OB to the shelves (in the UK, at any rate). I was happy to come across a bottle from the latest batch in my travels, at Royal Mile Whiskies in London last month. This standard 10yo bottling remains priced at a very affordable £36 (ex-VAT), which is about $60 CAD. That’s quite reasonable for a 10yo single malt nowadays, especially one bottled at 46% ABV. It is not chill-filtered, and I detect no signs of artificial colouring.

Let’s see how it does in my Meta-Critic database, separated out by the packaging redesign in 2017:

Ben Nevis 10yo (all editions): 8.46 ± 0.52 on 15 reviews ($$)
Ben Nevis 10yo (old label, pre-2017): 8.18 ± 0.45 on 11 reviews ($$)
Ben Nevis 10yo (post-2017): 8.86 ± 0.44 on 7 reviews ($$)

As you can see, the standard deviation of all editions of this whisky is higher than usual. But that reflects version/batch variation much more than it does reviewer variation. When I separate out by the 2017 redesign, you can see a huge difference with the new version being a lot more popular. And all reviewers in my database who have tried multiple batches prefer the post-2017 editions (some hugely so).

And now for a comparison to some similar whiskies. Just for completeness, I’ve added some lightly smokey Nikka whiskies (that may or may not contain Ben Nevis distillate):

Ben Nevis The Maltman 18yo: 8.85 ± 0.18 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Benromach 10yo: 8.66 ± 0.26 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Benromach 10yo Cask Strength (100 proof): 9.03 ± 0.19 on 14 review ($$$$)
Highland Park 10yo: 8.50 ± 0.25 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo (reviews pre-2014): 8.76 ± 0.27 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo (reviews 2014-2017): 8.41 ± 0.42 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo Viking Honour (post-2017): 8.52 ± 0.35 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Nikka 12yo Premium Blended: 8.54 ± 0.16 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Pure Malt Black: 8.75 ± 0.24 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt White: 8.69 ± 0.33 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Royal Lochnagar 12yo: 8.00 ± 0.29 on 15 reviews ($$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.71 ± 0.25 on 22 reviews ($$$$)

Again, I’ll come back to the Ben Nevis 10yo ranking at the end of the review. But first, my tasting notes for this recent 2019 batch:

Nose: Sweet apple juice and light honey initially. Fruity, with pear, red delicious apple and Honeydew melon, plus a touch of apricot. Slightly winey, but not much evidence of sherry (beyond some nuttiness). A lot of buttery caramel notes, like Cracker Jacks. It almost seems a touch medicinal, with a definite flinty note – not exactly smokey, more like a mixture of metal and gunpowder. Nice funkiness, a bit like a sweaty armpit (but in a good way). Reminds me of Benromach, but less smokey. Nice character, the funky bits integrate well.

Palate: Light caramel and apple initially, with some toffee notes. Lemon and orange zest pick up now. Sweetened anise. Some mild smoke and a musty paper note. Bit of tongue tingle, and has a slightly oily mouthfeel (maybe resinous is a better word?). A drop of water helps it open up a bit, with some malted chocolate notes emerging. I recommend you add a little (doesn’t need much).

Finish: Apple juice and light caramel continue. Some bitterness creeps in and builds with time, but it’s not offensive (more like coffee, or dark chocolate). Ultimately sweet enough on the way out, with a light corn syrupiness. The minerality persists throughout, which I like.

I’m glad I picked this bottle up. It’s an old-style Highland malt, and nicer than I was anticipating from the mixed review history. The spirit in this 2019 bottling definitely seems older to me than 10 years, especially given how attenuated the smoke is. If I had to guess, I would say this batch is older stock masquerading in their standard 10yo offering. My bottle is certainly an outstanding value for the class.

Interesting fit with Nikka, as I can some similarity to Yoichi production (which has some similar characteristics, rather complementary). But there are also definite similarities to Benromach, Springbank, and some of the older Glen Garioch (back when they used peated malt, pre-1995). I will definitely be keeping my eye out for other Ben Nevis bottlings now.

Among reviewers, the 2018 bottling did very well, with high marks from My Annoying Opinions and Patrick of Quebec Whisky. Ralfy gave it a positive review too, although with a lower score than typical. The 2017 bottling got very high marks from Ruben of Whisky Notes and both Serge and Angus of Whisky Fun. Old editions typically got more moderate scores, like from Jim Murray, Thomas of Whisky Saga and Jan of Best Shot Whisky – or really low ones, like from the boys at Quebec Whisky. But the more recent bottlings definitely seem to have much greater favour among reviewers, so I would recommend you consider only the post-2017 Meta-Critic scores.

Johnnie Walker White Walker

An interesting gimmick for a Game of Thrones-marketed version of Johnnie Walker – enter the White Walkers!

Fans of the series will be well familiar with the role these feared undead soldiers play in the series, with their characteristic blazing blue eyes. This effect is mirrored when placing this bottle of whisky in the freezer – a bright blue is revealed across the craggy design of the bottle, including the (now presumably) dead and glowing gentleman Johnnie, as well as the series ominous “Winter is Coming” motto. Conveniently, Johnnie Walker recommends you drink this whisky cold.

Diageo went all out with its GoT tie-ins, releasing limited-edition single malts from across their stable of distilleries. Most of these cost a premium over standard official bottlings, so the JW White Walker is a chance for the masses to get in on the fun with this blended whisky. Of course, that’s if you think merchandising ties-in go well with whisky (as one prominent reviewer on Reddit eloquently put it – when first asked if he planned to try this new blend – “I’d rather join the White Walkers”).

From what I can find online, it seems ~20% of the blend comes from malt whisky (with Clynelish and Cardu having been identified), and rest is grain whisky. Bottled at 41.7% ABV (a touch higher than industry standard). It sells for a comparable price to Johnnie Black around here (i.e., just under $60 CAD).

There is no doubt the bottle design and marketing is clever – but what of the whisky itself? As an aside, the recommendation to serve it from a frozen bottle is never an encouraging endorsement. But I’ve long found Johnnie Walker Black to be a quite decent (and consistent) choice in this price range, and even prefer it over a few entry-level malts. So let’s see how all the GoT-inspired Diageo offerings do in my database, starting with the Johnnie Walker line-up:

Johnnie Walker White Walker (GoT): 7.57 ± 0.81 on 11 reviews ($$)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.41 ± 0.62 on 23 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker Platinum Label: 8.44 ± 0.42 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve: 8.28 ± 0.31 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Johnnie Walker Blue Label: 8.61 ± 0.45 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Johnnie Walker 15yo Green Label: 8.55 ± 0.36 on 22 reviews ($$$$)
Johnnie Walker 12yo Black Label: 8.25 ± 0.47 on 24 reviews ($$)

As you can see, although the response is more variable than most, the consensus view of this whisky is much closer to JW Red than it is to JW Black (despite the comparable price). How do the more expensive GoT-branded single malts do?

GoT House Baratheon Royal Lochnagar 12yo: 8.39 ± 0.27 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
GoT Greyjoy Talisker Select Reserve: 8.78 ± 0.32 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Game of Thrones House Lannister Lagavulin 9yo: 8.81 ± 0.24 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
GoT House Stark Dalwhinnie Winter’s Frost: 8.47 ± 0.40 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
GoT House Targaryen Cardhu Gold Reserve: 8.02 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
GoT House Tully Singleton Glendullan Select: 7.92 ± 0.49 on 5 reviews ($$$)
GoT House Tyrell Clynelish Reserve: 8.83 ± 0.20 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
GoT The Night’s Watch Oban Bay Reserve: 8.58 ± 0.33 on 8 reviews ($$$$)

If you check my database for comparable official bottlings for those distilleries, you’ll see these consensus scores are not great for the price range. The Lagavulin, Talisker and Clynelish offerings seem to be the best quality and value (although again, you can find higher-ranked bottles for less).

And now what I find in the glass for JW White Walker, comparing both a standard room temperature pour and one from a frozen bottle:

Nose: At room temp, the main note is light, sweet apple juice. Light caramel. Slightly floral (but no discernible specific flower), with a touch of hay. Maybe a little nutty. Pleasant, with happily no real off notes. As expected, the pour from the frozen bottle has very little aroma – it is thin and pale in comparison.

Palate: Orange citrus comes in now, adding to the apple juice. Light caramel and butterscotch build. A bit of toasted char, coming across like toasted marshmellows. Cinnamon and a touch of cloves. Thin palate, with typical light, grainy mouthfeel. Some bitterness rises on the swallow. Served cold, I get even more butterscotch (oddly enough), and the mouthfeel thankfully gets thicker and oilier. Sweetness picks up too, with more candied marshmellow fluff. Actually prefer it cold, to be honest.

Finish: The bitterness from the swallow builds quickly, and grows with time (especially prominent on the back of tongue). It has an artificial taste, somewhat plasticky. This is starting to remind me of JW Red now. Some of the spices remain, not that that helps much. Fortunately, when served cold, the bitterness is greatly attenuated. And cinnamon spice seems enhanced (although that may just be be from selectively dampening the other off-notes).

It’s been a long time since I’ve tried Johnnie Walker Red, but the finish is really reminding me of it here. Frankly, that unpalatable bitterness is the main problem – and so, chilling definitely helps. Of course, you will lose the light floral and fruity notes when its chilled, but that is probably worth the trade-off (and caramel sweetness is enhanced). Definitely relegated to the mixing rack for me.

I find the consensus Meta-Critic score a little harsh – especially served cold, where it is more palatable. Among reviewers, the most positive reviews come from Jonny of Whisky Advocate and unclimbabilty of Reddit, both of whom give it an overall average score (and put it on par with JW Black). The Whiskey Jug gives it a fairly positive review (although with a rating that puts it in the bottom 10th percentile of all whiskies he’s reviewed). Indeed, that’s a common theme, with many other reviewers (myself included) putting it in the same bottom 10% category, along with the guys at Quebec Whisky and Jan of Best Shot Whisky Reviews. The worse scores (i.e., the bottom 1st percentile) come from Serge of Whisky Fun and washeewashee and HawkI84 of Reddit.

On the plus side, almost everyone who has tried both agrees it is better than JW Red. But few consider it on par with JW Black, where it is comparably priced.

 

Cutty Sark Prohibition

Cutty Sark is an entry-level blended scotch whisky (and one that I find is more popular with an older generation of drinkers). Not a fan myself, but I have been curious about this quite different small-batch version of Cutty Sark known as Prohibition.

The name is apparently a nod to the fact that the brand was popularly smuggled into America in the 1920s. The whisky is presented in a very retro black glass bottle with a cork top, typical of bottles during that era. Surpisingly, it is bottled at 50% ABV, which is impressive for an entry-level blend (regular Cutty Sark is standard 40% ABV).

It is not always available, but sells ~$36 CAD in Ontario/Quebec when it does show up, compared to ~$27 for regular Cutty Sark (which is pretty much the floor price for whisky in this country). It also get significantly higher reviews, as shown in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, compared to other entry-level scotch blends:

Ballantine’s Finest: 7.61 ± 0.62 on 12 reviews ($)
Bell’s Original: 7.56 ± 0.69 on 8 reviews ($)
Black Bottle (after 2013): 8.02 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$)
Catto’s Rare Old: 8.00 ± 0.69 on 5 reviews ($)
Cutty Sark: 7.53 ± 0.46 on 15 reviews ($)
Cutty Sark Prohibition: 8.48 ± 0.45 on 15 reviews ($$)
Cutty Sark Storm: 8.04 ± 0.48 on 8 reviews ($)
Dewar’s 12yo: 7.95 ± 0.36 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s White Label: 7.60 ± 0.70 on 16 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse: 7.67 ± 0.57 on 21 reviews ($)
Famous Grouse Gold Reserve 12yo: 8.46 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$)
Grand Macnish: 7.86 ± 0.45 on 8 reviews ($)
Grant’s Family Reserve Blended: 7.70 ± 0.64 on 14 reviews ($)
Grant’s 12yo: 8.46 ± 0.43 on 5 reviews ($$)
J&B Rare: 6.95 ± 1.11 on 13 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.42 ± 0.61 on 23 reviews ($)
Teacher’s Highland Cream: 7.87 ± 0.73 on 12 reviews ($)

Let’s see what I find in the glass.

Nose: Wow, that’s a lot of butterscotch. Toffee too. Butter caramels. Condensed milk and fudge. Yowza, that’s the full caramel gamut. Creamed corn. Stewed apples. Some citrus. A touch of cinnamon. No real off notes.

Palate: Very buttery, with the caramel notes continuing. Maybe a faint hint of dark chocolate. Baking spices and black pepper. Not very malty, but great mouthfeel thanks to the high ABV. Also a bit of zing on the swallow.

Finish: Medium long. Stewed apples again. Some ginger spice – but really lots of pepper, both black and white. Faint hint of bitterness. Sweetness lasts the longest.

A bit of water adds more fruit, peaches and pears in particular. It tames the alcohol zing a little but not the pepper – and it keeps the great buttery mouthfeel. Peppery tingle continues to the end. Recommend a little splash of water to help with the burn.

While nothing exciting, it is definitely worth an overall average score in my books – and represents great value for money.

Highest score comes from Patrick of Quebec Whisky, followed by Andre and Martin, and Dominic of Whisky Advocate. More moderately positive are Jim Murray and Serge of Whisky Fun. Less enthusiastic (but not negative) are Josh the Whiskey Jug, Mark of whisky.buzz, and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. Rather low scores come from Ruben of Whisky Notes and cjotto9 and Texacer of Reddit.

Mackinlay’s Shackleton Blended Malt

Talk about a great story. The fascinating history behind this relatively entry-level Scottish blended malt whisky starts with the discovery of century-old crates of Scotch whisky in the Antarctic permafrost – as recounted here. To understand what this bottling is (and isn’t), I need to take you on an abridged tour of that story – and of the initial limited release Shackleton recreations.

In preparation for his 1907 expedition to Antarctica, Sir Ernest Shackleton provisioned his ship with a blended whisky produced by Mackinlay (a brand now owned by Whyte & Mackay). Although he never reached the South Pole, he had stashed three crates of the whisky at his base camp at Cape Royds. These were discovered in 2007 by a team carrying out conservation work on Shackleton’s expedition hut, buried under the floor boards.

In 2011, three of the bottles were flown back to Scotland for chemical and sensory analysis – where it was discovered they were only lightly peated (using Orkney peat), bottled at 47.3% ABV, and had been matured in American oak sherry casks. The first recreation of this Shackleton whisky – by Whyte & Mackay master blended Richard Paterson – was a limited release of 50,000 bottles (known as the Discovery edition). This was followed up by a second limited release a year later, with a different composition (known as the Journey edition).

In 2017, they decided to produce a general release of a more basic blended malt under the Shackleton name. To be clear – and unlike the earlier limited releases – this is not intended to be a literal recreation of the actual Shackleton expedition whisky. Instead, think of it as a loose approximation of the style, for a modern audience (capturing “the essense” of Shackleton, as Paterson puts it).

Initially released in 1 L bottles through Global Travel Retail (aka Duty-Free), standard 750 mL bottles have been available more generally since early 2018. Bottled at 40% ABV, it sells for $58 CAD at the LCBO. As with the previous limited releases, a small contribution from each sale goes to the Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Here is how the various Shackleton releases compare in Meta-Critic Whisky Database, in relation to other Whyte & Mackay whiskies.

Dalmore 12yo: 8.42 ± 0.27 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore Cigar Malt: 8.42 ± 0.40 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore Valour: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Fettercairn Fior: 8.48 ± 0.26 on 6 reviews ($$$)
John Barr Reserve (Black Label): 7.90 ± 0.47 on 6 reviews ($)
Jura 10yo Origin: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Jura 12yo Elixir: 8.32 ± 0.45 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Jura Prophecy: 8.66 ± 0.30 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Jura Superstition: 8.28 ± 0.45 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Mackinlay’s Shackleton Blended Malt: 8.41 ± 0.39 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Mackinlay’s Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt Discovery edition: 8.88 ± 0.40 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackinlay’s Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt Journey edition: 8.63 ± 0.23 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Whyte & Mackay 13yo: 8.05 ± 0.54 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Whyte & Mackay Blended Triple Matured: 7.31 ± 0.87 on 3 reviews ($)
Whyte & Mackay Special Blended: 7.65 ± 0.41 on 7 reviews ($)

As you can see, the average scores drop from the the first limited release to the second – and again, to this general release. Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet apple juice. Honey. Light caramel. Sour cherries. Gummy bears and bubblegum. Light touch of smoke. No real off notes, which is impressive for the price point. Fairly basic, but pleasant.

Palate: Honey again, with some light corn syrup. Apple juice. Sourness from nose continues as well, with some tart green apple. A touch of orange juice. A bit of bitterness on swallow. Smoke turns into a more persistent funkiness (as you sometimes find with lightly-peated whiskies). Reminds me of Scapa Skiren.

Finish: Simple and fairly short. Again, honey and apple juice persist the longest. Bitterness from the wood does build with time. Seems youngish.

Scapa Skiren is indeed the closest match I can think of, but with perhaps a bit more character here on the nose. Fans of the Johnnie Walker Black style may also like this recreation.

There aren’t too many reviews of this general-release Shackleton whisky yet. Jonny of Whisky Advocate gives it a very high rating – in contrast to Thomas of Whisky Saga and throwboats on Reddit, who both give it a low score. I think the Meta-Critic average score is fair. A decent blended malt whisky for the price, but nothing too complex or interesting. Still a great story though!

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.

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