Tag Archives: Scottish

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.

Grant’s 18 Year Old Blended

This is a limited release of an age-stated version of the Grant’s line of blended scotch whisky (not to be confused with Glen Grant single malts). Prior to this premium age-stated release, I’ve only had the entry-level Grant’s blend (known as “Grant’s Family Reserve”). Although I haven’t reviewed it, I found that no-age-statement (NAS) blend to be very basic, and would not recommended it.

So what drew me to buying this bottle? In my experience, age-stated blends are generally pretty decent, especially from William Grant and Sons (e.g., the Storas 21 yo). Grant’s 18 yo has been finished in Port casks, which typically brings in a fruity character that I quite like. It is reasonably priced at the LCBO ($80 CAD, bought on sale for $64). And I found another whisky enthusiast willing to take a gamble and split the bottle with me, thus further lowering my risk.

Grant’s 18 yo is bottled at the industry-standard 40% ABV. I presume it is chill-filtered and colouring has been added.

Here is how it compares in my Meta-Critic Database to some other blended scotch brands that also come with age-stated expressions:

Ballantine’s 17yo: 8.77 ± 0.32 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Ballantine’s Finest: 7.62 ± 0.61 on 12 reviews ($)
Catto’s 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.31 on 5 reviews ($$)
Catto’s Rare Old: 8.02 ± 0.67 on 5 reviews ($)
Chivas Regal 12yo: 7.79 ± 0.44 on 23 reviews ($$)
Chivas Regal 18yo: 8.23 ± 0.46 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Dewar’s 12yo: 7.94 ± 0.35 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s White Label: 7.52 ± 0.71 on 14 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse Gold Reserve 12yo: 8.47 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse: 7.65 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($)
Grant’s 12yo: 8.47 ± 0.42 on 5 reviews ($$)
Grant’s 18yo: 8.71 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($$$)
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 ($$)
Hankey Bannister 21yo Partner’s Reserve: 8.55 ± 0.43 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Hankey Bannister Original: 7.87 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker 12yo Black Label: 8.26 ± 0.47 on 24 reviews ($$)
Johnnie Walker Blue Label: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)
Johnnie Walker Green Label: 8.53 ± 0.35 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Storas 21yo Rare Cask Reserves Blended: 8.69 ± 0.11 on 4 reviews ($$$)

As you can see, that’s a top score for an age-stated blended scotch. Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Fairly rich and complex nose, likely owing to the Port finishing. Honey and brown sugar. Caramel. A base of apple and pear juice, with figs and raisins. Some red berries (and red grapes). Lemon citrus. Nutty, which I like. A slight bit of funk, which adds to character. A bit spirity, but no real solvent off-notes – definitely shows its extended age.

Palate: Tons of honey and caramel to start, very sweet. Vanilla. Fruity, with dried red fruits prominent. Figs again, and the standard apples and pear. Toasted almonds. Malty, which is nice for a blend (i.e., not particularly grainy). Very light wood spice, nutmeg mainly. No burn. Pleasant to hold in the mouth. ‎Turns slightly bitter on the swallow. Still, this is one for those with a sweet tooth. Wish it was higher proof, as it has a rather watery mouthfeel (as expected).

Finish:‎ Medium-short. Lemon zest. Chocolate-covered almonds. A winey Port finish on the fade out, with a bit of oaky bitterness. Some mouth puckering astringency. Not bad for a blend, but a longer finish would be nice.

A good integration of malt and grain whiskies – heavier on the malt, it seems to me. Certainly higher quality than regular NAS blends‎.

I like a nice Port finish on a fairly simple base whisky, like Pike Creek 10yo and Kavalan Concertmaster.‎ This Grant’s 18yo reminds me more of the later, although sweeter in this case. And a lot cheaper around here, too. Higher proof would have been great, along with a longer lasting finish, but a good blend for what it is. I think the Meta-Critic average score is fair.

Lawrence of Malt Maniacs gives it a very high score, as does Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. Ruben of Whisky Notes and Dominic of Whisky Advocate both give it a below average score (but positive reviews). The lowest score comes from Oliver of Dramming.

Macallan Edition No. 2

Macallan Edition is an annual limited series. Each year, Macallan releases a new Edition that is based on a unique selection of oak cask styles for that year’s release. As an extra wrinkle, each year is to be a co-creation with different partners.

Edition No. 2 was released in 2017, and the new no. 3 is just coming out now (so I figured I better get this review out while you can still grab a bottle if you want). Edition No. 2 is a collaboration between Macallan Master Whisky Maker Bob Dalgarno and the three Roca brothers, co-founders of El Celler de Can Roca, apparently one of the top named restaurants in the world.

Edition No. 2 is based on seven oak cask types (both European and American oak) from four different bodegas.

Bottled at 48.2% ABV, it is currently still available at the LCBO for $175 CAD. My sample came from Redditor 89Justin.

Let’s see how it does in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Macallan 12yo Double Cask: 8.48 ± 0.39 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Macallan 12yo Fine Oak: 8.46 ± 0.40 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Macallan 15yo Fine Oak: 8.44 ± 0.51 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 17yo Fine Oak: 8.78 ± 0.50 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 18yo Fine Oak: 8.72 ± 0.26 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 21yo Fine Oak: 8.51 ± 0.40 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan 1824 Amber: 8.30 ± 0.36 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Macallan 1824 Gold: 8.24 ± 0.28 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Macallan 1824 Rare Cask: 8.70 ± 0.40 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan 1824 Ruby: 8.76 ± 0.21 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 1824 Sienna: 8.71 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Cask Strength: 8.93 ± 0.35 on 16 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan Edition No. 1: 8.83 ± 0.52 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Edition No. 2: 8.87 ± 0.20 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Select Oak: 8.28 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition: 8.53 ± 0.36 on 13 reviews ($$$$)

While not exactly cheap at $175 CAD, this is one the few releases of Macallan in recent years where I have not heard too many grumblings of the price relative to quality.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Delicious rich dark chocolate and creamy caramel, a great start. Fresh raisins and figs, with dried apple and pear. Brown sugar. Nutty and earthy, maybe some ginger. Definitely an unusual cask influence at work – there is something spicy here, more than typical barrel spice (chilies?). Vaguely solventy, almost sour, but that seems to go with the earthy component. Not your typical Macallan, this is a distinctive and complex nose.

Palate: The sweetness simplifies initially (i.e., white sugar), and the fruits turn more candied, with more prominent apple and pear. Citrus picks up now too (orange peel). Cinnamon. The earthiness seems to have lightened, leaving a very clean palate – with just a hint of something vegetal lurking in the background. Also very drinkable at the 48.2% ABV. It is almost watery in fact. Definitely not quite as complex as the nose, but pleasant. Some brown sugar comes back on the swallow.

Finish: Medium long. The spice comes back, a particularly oaky spice. Still very clean, with the simple candied fruitiness from the palate lasting a fairly long time.

With water, you get a simpler nose – raisin fruitiness is increased, earthiness decreased. Sweeter in mouth as well. Doesn’t need it in my view.

Simpler than I expected, especially on the way out. But it has none of that typical youthful harshness of most NAS expressions. This is probably a good choice for those who like unusual casks expressions (e.g., fans of independent bottlers).  It is also not at all your typical Macallan profile, thanks to the wider wood influence.

At the end of the day, I can’t help but think that this would have been spectacular had it been aged for longer. I think the Meta-Critic average score is reasonable.

The guys at Quebec Whisky are big fans of this edition, as are Serge of Whisky Fun, Ruben of Whisky Notes, and Emma of Whiskey Reviewer. On Reddit, Devoz, Ethanized, throwboats, xile_ and MajorHop all love this edition. muaddi99 is a little less enthusiastic. cjotto9 and Sinjun86, as well as Beppi Crossariol of the Globe & Mail, give it an average score. I’ve not actually seen a negative review of this whisky, among my reviewer set.

Tamdhu 30 Year Old – The MacPhail’s Collection (2009)

This is an independent bottling of Tamdhu, a speyside distillery in Scotland. Like many Scottish distilleries, Tamdhu has gone through multiple periods of production and shuttering over the years. Most recently, it was re-opened after a brief hiatus by Ian MacLeod Distillers, who are responsible for the new branding and official bottlings out there. But this independent bottling is based on stocks laid down in the late 1970s, while they were controlled by the Edrington Group.

Historically, Tamdhu production has been used mainly for blended scotch whiskies, like Famous Grouse, J&B and Cutty Sark. Aside from a limited range of current single malt official bottlings, there have been some independent bottlings over the years. This review is of one by Gordon & MacPhail, who have released a number of aged Tamdhu’s under their higher-end “The MacPhail’s Collection” label over the years. This bottling is from a 2009 release, featuring a heavily-sherried 30 year old Tamdhu (I believe it was fully aged in first-fill sherry casks).

Bottled at 43% ABV. Not sure of the original list price, but I believe it was quite reasonable for the age (going by what I recently paid for a glass at Brevings whisky bar in Riga, Latvia). I don’t do a lot of reviews of independent bottlings, but I couldn’t resist the chance to try this one. I don’t expect it would be too easy to track down a bottle of this one now, however.

I don’t have a lot to compare it to in this age range, but let’s see how it does against similarly aged malts in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Brora 30yo: 9.30 ± 0.21 on 18 reviews ($$$$$+)
Caol Ila 30yo: 9.31 ± 0.20 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Glencadam 30yo: 8.80 ± 0.20 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
Glenfiddich 30yo: 9.05 ± 0.13 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 30yo: 9.14 ± 0.42 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan 30yo Fine Oak: 8.56 ± 0.36 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Talisker 30yo: 9.19 ± 0.32 on 13 reviews ($$$$$+)
Tamdhu 30yo (MacPhail Collection 2009): 9.11 ± 0.10 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Tamdhu Batch Strength (both batches): 8.54 ± 0.72 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tamdhu 10yo: 8.30 ± 0.58 on 18 reviews ($$$$)

There are very few reviews out there, but all seem to rank this whisky quite highly.  And now what I find in the glass:

Colour: Rich mahogany, red gold

Nose: Sweet tarts to start, followed by rich figs, raisins, and sultanas. Cherries and grapes. Some lighter berries, plus pear. Get the feeling there’s a lot of fruit? Tons of brown sugar, honey and caramel as well. Slightly herbal. No off notes. A powerful dram.

Palate: Cherry cough syrup on overdrive – the herbal note turns definitely medicinal (think Buckleys). Thick and syrupy mouthfeel adds to the effect, as does some eucalyptus. Cherry cola. Orange syrup. Honey nectar and dark brown sugar (demarara sugar). Vanilla. Earthy, with dark chocolate and coffee notes. Wood spice. Something slightly musty, but it works.

Finish: Long and lingering. Herbal liqueur. Oak spice picks up, with cinnamon. Dried fruits comes back at the end, along with a slight bitterness – but not bad at all. Cherry cola lasts the longest.

This is a powerful dram. A true sherry-bomb, nectar-of-the-gods type of offering. Interestingly enough, I had just tried the standard bottling of Macallan 18yo Fine Oak before this one, and couldn’t help thinking this is what a fully sherry-matured Macallan of comparable age and vintage would likely taste like. Like Aberlour, Tamdhu might be considered a good source for relatively inexpensive classic Macallan-like heavy sherry oak malts.

This independent bottling gets a very good review from Serge of Whisky Fun, and from a couple of the other Malt Maniacs. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any other reviews of this vintage.  A nice dram, to be sure – and worth keeping an eye out for any new releases.

Macallan 18 Year Old Fine Oak

It just occurred to me that I’ve yet to post any of my Macallan single malt reviews – so in honour of Robbie Burns day (January 25), let me rectify that with the Macallan Fine Oak 18 Year Old.

After Glenfiddich and Glenlivet, Macallan is probably the next best-known Scottish single malt whisky distillery. Located in Craigellachie, this Highland whisky maker is currently owned by Edrington Group. It is a high-volume producer, turning out over 700,000 cases a year, according to sources on Wikipedia. But many of its expressions are very highly regarded by whisky enthusiasts, and it thus occupies something of a prestige niche. But with that cachet also comes higher prices, forcing many enthusiasts to look at lower-priced equivalent products elsewhere. In more recent years, this includes newer entry-level products from Macallan themselves (including various no-age-statement bottlings).

In style, Macallan has long been associated heavy European oak sherry cask aging (originally brought to the distillery from Jerez, Spain). But starting early this millenium, Macallan introduced this Fine Oak series, where the whisky has been aged in both ex-bourbon casks as well as sherry ones (both American oak, I believe). Macallan points to the American casks as introducing dryer and more oaky elements into the finished product.

Bottled at a range of ages, this 18 year old edition would typically sell for ~$300 CAD (if you could find it – not currently available locally in Ontario).  I sampled it last year at the Brevings whisky bar and restaurant in Riga, Latvia. Bottled at 43% ABV.

Here is how it compares to other Macallan whiskies of similar style or price in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

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 ($$$$$+)
Macallan 1824 Ruby: 8.76 ± 0.21 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 1824 Sienna: 8.70 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 10yo Fine Oak: 8.26 ± 0.30 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Macallan 12yo Fine Oak: 8.45 ± 0.40 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Macallan 15yo Fine Oak: 8.45 ± 0.51 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 17yo Fine Oak: 8.78 ± 0.50 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 18yo Fine Oak: 8.72 ± 0.26 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 18yo Sherry Oak: 8.89 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan 21yo Fine Oak: 8.51 ± 0.40 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan 25yo Fine Oak: 8.63 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan 30yo Fine Oak: 8.56 ± 0.36 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan Edition No. 1: 8.82 ± 0.51 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Edition No. 2: 8.87 ± 0.20 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Select Oak: 8.28 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition: 8.53 ± 0.36 on 13 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet and honeyed, with moderately complex sugars. Dark-skinned and red fruits – plums and raspberry come to mind especially. Very bright tasting – not heavy on the sherry notes (i.e., no figs or jammy notes). Coconut. Lemon citrus. A bit earthy, with some anise and cocoa. No real off notes, besides a bit of raw ethanol. Wasn’t sure what to expect exactly, but this is quite nice.

Palate: Very balanced fruit with caramel and golden sugar joining the honey. More orange rind now, rather than lemon. Vanilla and nutmeg. Milk chocolate. Ginger and some pepper. A bit of raw ethanol sting, but otherwise a somewhat buttery texture. Some tartness comes in after the swallow.

Finish:‎ Medium length. Golden brown sugar lasts the longest, along with a toffee stickiness. A fair amount of astringency too, likely from the oak. A bit bitter. To be honest, I kind of hoped for more here.

This is definitely a quality dram. The ex-bourbon and sherry oak characteristics seem well integrated, giving this malt a refined presentation. The nose in particular is lovely and complex. Unfortunately, I find the finish somewhat lacklustre for the age (and price), holding it back from a truly top score. As such, I would say the Meta-Critic average score is fair.

Among reviewers, Jim Murray is a fan of this series (and this bottling in particular). On Reddit, Unclimbability is very positive, and shane_il and cake_my_day both score it consistent with the Meta-Critic average. Serge of Whisky Fun gives it one of the lowest scores out there.

Tomatin 1999 Single Cask 18 Year Old – Kensington Wine Market

This is a single cask bottling of Tomatin, a Highland whisky producer in Scotland. I’ve seen a few of their single cask bottlings go by in recent years, typically through various state-controlled liquor boards. This bottling was released by Kensington Wine Market in Calgary, Alberta (their first Tomatin special release, I understand).

Released last last year, this single malt was distilled in 1999. It was matured in ex-Bourbon casks, and finished for five years in a Pedro Ximenez Sherry Butt. That makes it 18 years and 9 months of age.

621 bottles were released, bottled 52% ABV. It currently sells for $150 CAD at KWM. I was able to sample this from a colleague’s bottle.

There are not enough reviews to be included in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, but here are how the various Tomatin bottlings compare.

Tomatin 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.45 on 19 reviews ($$)
Tomatin 14yo Portwood: 8.59 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin 15yo: 8.32 ± 0.54 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin 18yo: 8.68 ± 0.22 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin 40yo: 8.95 ± 0.39 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
Tomatin Cask Strength: 8.35 ± 0.46 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Cu Bocan: 8.03 ± 0.41 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Cu Bocan 1989 Limited Edition: 8.94 ± 0.26 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Tomatin Cu Bocan Sherry Edition: 8.35 0± .30 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Cu Bocan Virgin Oak Edition: 8.51 ± ± 0.47 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Decades: 8.92 ± 0.49 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Tomatin Legacy: 8.15 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$)
Tomatin Oloroso Sherry 1995: 8.58 ± 0.56 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)

While most of these bottlings are nothing special, I was personally a big fan of the peated limited release Cu Bocan 1989.  But I typically also like unpeated gentle base malts that are well-aged with an extensive period of sherry of port finishing.

Let’s see what I find in the glass on this one:

Nose: Brown sugar and caramel. Very jammy nose, with dark fruit preserves. Golden raisins, plus a lighter candied fruit note. Almost port-like in its level of sweet fruit. Nutty, with an earthy quality (moist earth and ginger root). Light cinnamon. This is a good pairing of bourbon maturation and PX finishing. No off notes, except perhaps for the faintest hint of old sweatsock (so, sulphur – if you are particularly sensitive to it).

Palate: Rich and thick brown sugar notes dominate, along with honey and creamy caramel – a good pairing. Fruits take a back seat now, and the earthy notes take over. Hazelnut. Dark chocolate. Tobacco. Cinnamon and nutmeg, plus a little black pepper. Great mouthfeel, oily and sticky. Quite drinkable at 52% ABV, doesn’t need water to tame the burn. Touch of bitterness creeps in on the swallow.

Finish: Long and creamy. The dark fruit preserves return, along with the lighter candied fruit note (gummi bears). Cinnamon lingers the longest, which I like. What little bitterness there is is very mild, and doesn’t detract for me.

With water, the classic bourbon sweetness notes rise on the nose (i.e. light caramel and vanilla). Water turns the oily mouthfeel into something more syrupy – with added corn syrup sweetness to boot. Doesn’t affect the burn, so I consider water to be optional on this one.

A good quality cask pairing, to be sure.  I’d give it ~8.8 on the Meta-Critic scale. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for other Tomatin special releases.

 

The Infamous 22 Year Old Blended Malt

Following on my review of an entry-level blended malt (Monkey Shoulder), here is a higher-end offering: the Infamous 22 Year Old.  This is an example of a “mystery malt” – that is, a blended malt where the source distilleries are not identified. I don’t typically do many reviews of mystery malts, but this one has a funny story behind it that piqued my interest. I couldn’t resist picking up a bottle in my travels, given its ridiculously low price and presumed heritage.

This bottling of Scottish malt whiskies comes from Fountana Beverage – an international liquor import/exporter based in Vancouver, Canada. The bottle label explains it is a blend of whiskies from “two of the most notorious single malt distilleries in Scotland,” representing “where the mountain meets the sea” (with a custom logo to that effect). Specifically, the whiskies come from a lightly-peated island malt and a heavily-sherried Highland malt, aged independently and blended in Scotland. I’ve seen some commentary online that the island malt was exclusively from ex-bourbon barrels.

You often get these sorts of tantalizing clues with mystery malts, which are designed to lead those with a bit of knowledge to make an educated guess as to the distilleries involved (whether correctly or not). Privately, the local agent did reveal to vendors in Alberta that those two distilleries are Highland Park and Macallan, respectively. While both are quality big-name malt producers, it would be very unusual to pair their styles together. I’ve seen speculation online that the casks were from batches originally earmarked for either The Famous Grouse or Cutty Sark blends.

Another funny story the local agent revealed: the whisky casks had all passed 23 years of age before bottling. But the bottle labels had already been printed, so they stuck with the Infamous 22 yo name.

Bottled at 50% ABV. This 22 (23?) year old blended malt was only $103 CAD at World of Whisky in Calgary, Alberta. As the label certifies, no artificial colour has been added, and it is not chill-filtered.  While there are no reviews in Meta-Critic Whisky Database, I thought I would pick it up as a Christmas gift to myself this year.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Prominent caramel and brown sugar to start (which surprised me), followed by fruit gummies and some drier sherry fruits. Fruitcake, with red berries and raisins. Mixed nuts. Some lighter floral notes, which are nice. Light spices. There is an underlying sourness, likely from the light peat, but no real smoke per se. No solvent notes, but a bit of ethanol heat consistent with the 50% ABV.

Palate: Caramel, honey and vanilla show up first, presumably from the ex-bourbon casks. Then juicy red grapes and raisins, plus Christmas cake – very nice delayed sherry presentation. Not a lot overt smoke – more of a savoury, charred meat flavour that builds with time. Hint of rosemary. Fresh leather. Very distinctive pairing. It’s almost like drinking the caramelized drippings left in the pan of a pork roast with veggies. Rich mouthfeel, definitely oily. Some slight ethanol sting, consistent with high ABV – but it surprisingly doesn’t need any water.

Finish: Long (although not quite as long as some I’ve had in this age range). A great mix of sweet fruity notes and savoury earth notes, complex. No real bitterness, and a slight hint of smoke appears now. The ex-bourbon sweetness continues the longest, leaving a nice sugary coating on the lips and gums. Probably the closest thing in my experience is one of the aged Macallan Fine Oaks (but with a touch of smoke), or the Highland Park 25 year old (but with extra sherry).

I am surprised at how strongly the ex-bourbon character comes through here, at all levels of the tasting experience. I expected the (Macallan) sherry character to dominate more. The lightly peated malt also plays very much a supporting role – but one that comes across more as meaty instead of smokey/peaty.  Despite not being quite what I expected, I find I really enjoy this one – it’s full of surprises. Personally, I’d score this around ~9.0 on the Meta-Critic average scale.

There are not a lot of reviews of this one out there, but you can also check out criollo_and_barley on Reddit, or the reviewers at Distiller.com. Andrew at Kensington Wine Market also has tasting notes.

Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt

Monkey Shoulder is a great example of one of the (not so) best kept secrets in the whisky world. As I explain on my single malts vs blends page, a single malt simply means a blend (or vatting) of different malts whiskies from a single distillery. Unless it is specifically identified as a “single cask”, you are definitely getting multiple barrels mixed together for your single malt.  A blended scotch is defined as a blend of malt whisky and cheaper-to-produce grain whisky. But there is the intermediate category called a blended malt (or previously “pure malt”) where malt whisky from multiple distilleries are brought together.

In principle, there’s no reason why a blended malt would not be every bit as good as a single malt, since it is only the number of distilleries that differ. But just as blended scotches have long occupied the entry-level price point, most blended malts are similarly inexpensive and without age statements – although there are of course always exceptions (i.e., see the Taketsuru line of Japanese malt whiskies).

Monkey Shoulder is a commonly available, reasonably priced, no-age-statement blended malt from three classic Speyside distilleries controlled by William Grant & Sons: Kininvie, Balvenie, and Glenfiddich. You may not have heard of the first one (since most of its malt production goes into blended scotches), but the other two should be familiar to single malt drinkers – and will give you an idea as to what flavour profile to expect here. In this case, I believe the blend is exclusively from first-fill ex-bourbon casks, but there are of course no guarantees if that isn’t indicated on the label.

In case you are wondering about the unusual name, it comes from a historic occupational strain injury that floor malters suffered from in the early years of whisky production. In the traditional method, malting of barley would be done across a large floor (for the extended surface area). This required constant turning of the barley, so that it didn’t over-germinate into a solid mass – a task traditionally done by hand. “Monkey Shoulder” is the crude name for the condition that some malt workers developed after long shifts, where one of their arms would hang down – similar to some monkeys. Obviously, this would no longer be permitted today.

Monkey Shoulder is very reasonably priced in most jurisdictions, typically around the level of higher-end blends or entry-level single malts. It is currently $65 CAD at the LCBO, which is steeper than most places. It is bottled at the industry standard 40% ABV.

Let’s see how it compares to other blended malt or entry-level single malt whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database.

Aberlour 10yo: 8.27 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$)
Arran Malt Robert Burns Single Malt 8.22: ± 0.56 on 8 reviews ($$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.28 ± 0.26 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan American Oak: 7.78 ± 0.85 on 8 reviews ($$)
Benromach Traditional: 8.43 ± 0.44 on 12 reviews ($$)
Glen Grant 10yo: 8.27 ± 0.46 on 9 reviews ($$)
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve: 7.96 ± 0.61 on 10 reviews ($$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.11 ± 0.22 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.30 on 22 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve: 7.97 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$)
McClelland’s Lowland: 7.02 ± 0.50 on 4 reviews ($$)
McClelland’s Speyside: 6.70 ± 0.43 on 6 reviews ($$)
Monkey Shoulder: 8.31 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$)
Pig’s Nose 5yo Blended Malt: 7.93 ± 0.40 on 3 reviews ($$)
Sheep Dip Blended Malt: 8.45 ± 0.35 on 13 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Dufftown 12yo: 7.87 ± 0.47 on 10 reviews ($$)
Speyburn 10yo: 8.10 ± 0.33 on 19 reviews ($$)
Speyside 12yo: 7.87 ± 0.63 on 10 reviews ($$)

Monkey Shoulder gets a decent score for this price point, consistent with the best entry-level single malts.

My sample came from Redditor 89Justin. Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: Fairly light, with dominant notes of caramelized baked apples. Green banana and a touch of citrus (orange). Golden raisins. Vanilla, nutmeg and a slight brown sugar note – all combining to give an evocative impression of baked apple pie. ‎Bit of acetone, suggestive of its youthful age. Pretty decent on the nose.

Palate: Some honey adds to the caramel notes from the nose. Not as fruity anymore, maybe a bit of light pear. Very lightly spiced. Malty. Unfortunately, I get a dusty, dry cardboard note (likely also from its youth). A slight bit of ethanol sting, but at least it adds some substance to the somewhat watery mouth feel.

Finish: Short, and relatively light.  A bit of the spice comes back, but it remains fairly dry and not a fruity as I had hoped. No real off notes though, except for a slight bitterness.

Definitely an entry level malt. Better than most scotch blends, but it seems to me like it would have benefited from a few more years in the casks. Given its first-fill ex-bourbon heritage, I expected a little more sweetness on the palate and finish. But I think the average Meta-Critic score above is fair.

Among reviewers, Nathan the Scotch Noob is a big fan, as are most of the guys at Quebec Whisky. Josh the Whiskey Jug gives it an average score. Most reviewers give it below average for the malt class, as you might expect – including Jason of In Search of Elegance, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, and Thomas of Whisky Saga, among others. Serge of Whisky Fun, Ruben of Whisky Notes and Jim Murray all give it very low scores.

Highland Queen Majesty 8 Year Old Single Malt

As I mentioned in my inaugural Highland Queen whisky review, there are a number of blended scotches and single malt expressions in this extended line. Produced by Tullibardine distillery in the Scottish highlands, you can expect a pretty gentle base spirit across the various Highland Queens.

The single malt versions of Highland Queen are all identified by the “Majesty” subtitle. Like the standard blended scotch versions, these come in both a number of NAS and age-stated forms. The Majesty 8 Year Old single malt expression caught my eye, for the maturation in new oak barrels. It is not common to see standard Scottish single malt bottlings aged exclusively in virgin oak, so I was curious to see what effect it would have on the base Tullibardine malt.

Bottled at 40% ABV, this Majesty 8 yo single malt was on sale for $38 CAD in Calgary, Alberta. There are no reviews in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, so I thought I would buy a bottle and add my own to the blogosphere.

Nose: Honey, with standard apple. Some dry grass (picking up on that herbaceous note I noticed on the base blend). Pleasant enough, but also has a faint dried cardboard note, and some raw ethanol which you don’t find on the entry-level Highland Queen.

Palate: Honey and some light caramel. Definite citrus now – orange peel in particular, with maybe a touch of lemon. Woody, with lots of oak notes. Black pepper. Light cinnamon and all-spice. Dried glue again. Watery mouthfeel, but with a bit of ethanol sting. Has a bit more character than I was expecting, for the young age.

Finish: Short. Light honey and apple juice return. Caramel and a dry woodiness persist the longest. Some light bitterness lingers, but it works with the woody elements.

This is actually pretty decent for a young malt. My initial impression was pretty “meh”, but some woody character emerges on successive sips. While nothing spectacular, the virgin oak treatment is effective in elevating the base gentle spirit. Of course, that assumes one likes oaky wood notes. I would personally rate this a 8.3 on the standard Meta-Critic rating scale for a single malt.

Highland Queen Blended Scotch

I had never heard of this particular brand – and so was surprised to see several different bottlings of blended Scotch whiskies and single malt expressions on the shelf on a recent trip out West.

The origin of the brand name dates back to 1893, with the Highland Queen blend of Macdonald & Muir Ltd. Named in honour of Mary Queen of Scots, the original Highland Queen was supplied by Glenmorangie distillery. The brand was purchased in 2008, and the Highland Queen Scotch Whisky Company was established at the Tullibardine distillery, in the Scottish Highlands.

I’ve had a few Tullibardine malts, which are generally quite mild and inoffensive. It’s definitely a “gentle dram” maker, and should work well for basic blends.

This entry-level scotch blend is the base expression of the Highland Queen line, aged for 3 years and bottled at 40% ABV. I saw this this bottling on sale for $26 CAD in a COOP in Calgary, Alberta.

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

Ballantine’s Finest: 7.62 ± 0.61 on 12 reviews ($)
Bank Note 5yo Blended Scotch: 8.09 ± 0.67 on 5 reviews ($)
Bell’s Original: 7.57 ± 0.77 on 7 reviews ($)
Black Bottle (after 2013 re-launch): 7.99 ± 0.47 on 12 reviews ($$)
Catto’s Rare Old: 8.02 ± 0.68 on 5 reviews ($)
Cutty Sark: 7.53 ± 0.46 on 15 reviews ($)
Famous Grouse: 7.64 ± 0.56 on 20 reviews ($)
Grant’s Family Reserve: 7.69 ± 0.67 on 14 reviews ($)
Hankey Bannister Original: 7.87 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($)
Highland Queen: 7.92 ± 0.45 on 3 reviews ($)
Islay Mist 8yo: 7.91 ± 0.47 on 9 reviews ($)
J&B Rare: 6.98 ± 1.03 on 11 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.36 ± 0.59 on 21 reviews ($)
Teacher’s Highland Cream: 7.95 ± 0.72 on 11 reviews ($)
Whyte & Mackay Special Reserve: 7.47 ± 0.46 on 7 reviews ($)

There are only a limited number of reviews, but so far Highland Queen is scoring on par with the higher-end of the base scotch blends in my database.

I was given a sample to try, let’s see what I found in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with honey and caramel initially. Standard apples and pears (apple juice), but not a lot of fruit otherwise. A touch of nutmeg. Very simple, but pretty decent for an entry-level blend, with a surprising lack of solvent notes.

Palate: Apples remain the most prominent here, caramel-dipped. Honey, with a bit of vanilla. Something faintly herbaceous, but nothing specifically identifiable. Maybe a touch of anise. Light and watery mouthfeel, with no real burn.

Finish: Short. Quick and clean, just faint apple juice and honey. Disappears with no off notes, but a slight touch of bitterness does creep in.

A very basic blend, with a limited ex-bourbon barrel flavour palate. But surprisingly lacking the off-notes that mar most entry-level blends for me.

This base blend gets a decent score from Jim Murray (though still below average), and a positive review (but a low score) from Jonny at Whisky Advocate. Personally, I’m in-between on this one, but closer to Jonny in score. Nothing to specifically seek out, but as the Meta-Critic shows, you could do a lot worse.

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