Bushmills Black Bush is another example of an inexpensive blended Irish whisky – but it is in a different league from its entry-level little brother, Bushmills Original Blended.
As I explained in my Bushmills Original review, Bushmills blends single malt whisky with column-distilled grain whisky (just like blended scotch). In the case of Black Bush though, the malt component makes up a greater relative proportion of the blend compared to regular Bushmills, or to other blends at this price point (i.e., I’ve seen up to 80% malt reported online for Black Bush).
The malt component of Black Bush is a mix of Oloroso sherry casks and ex-bourbon casks. This should add some sherried sweetness into the mix – another unusual feature at this price point. The whisky has no official age statement, but I’ve seen differing reports online that the base malt has being been aged for “up to 7 years” or for “8-10 years” before blending with the grain. None of that is mentioned on the label though, so all such claims should be taken with a grain of salt.
Bottled at the standard 40% ABV, it is currently $37 CAD at the LCBO (compared to $32 for Bushmills original).
Let’s see how it does in my Meta-Critic whisky database compared to other Bushmills, and some other just-above entry-level Irish whiskies:
Bushmills 10yo Single Malt: 8.17 ± 0.30 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.48 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bushmills 21yo Single Malt: 8.93 ± 0.34 on 11 reviews ($$$$$) Bushmills Black Bush: 8.35 ± 0.40 on 20 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.63 ± 0.49 on 15 reviews ($$)
Glendalough Double Barrel: 8.29 ± 0.40 on 5 reviews ($$)
Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition: 8.27 ± 0.48 on 8 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.37 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$)
Teeling Small Batch (Rum Cask Finish): 8.31 ± 0.41 1on 9 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Original Clan Irish Whiskey: 8.15 ± 0.22 on 4 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Founder’s Reserve: 8.32 ± 0.38 on 6 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Black Bush is getting a very reasonable score for the price.
Here is what I find in the glass:
Nose: Light, with a touch of sherry (red fruits, raisins) along with some light fruits (apple, pear). A bit of apple cider. Sweet, but not artificially so (as I found on the original blended) – more your classic vanilla here. Certainly a lot more malty, which is nice. No real alcohol burn or off notes.
Palate: Mild, with even less fruit showing up now – but more of the vanilla and caramel. Touch of baking spices, and baked goods in general (i.e., a bit cakey, maybe stewed apples). Thin body, with no real burn – somewhat watery mouthfeel. Certainly nothing offensive about it, but not much to really recommend it either. Would be better at higher proof.
Finish: Short. Same notes as nose and palate, fading out without any real off notes.
This is definitely better than Bushmills Original blended, you could actually drink this one neat (although you are likely to find it a bit boring). For the extra $5 CAD, I would say this one is a no-brainer – Black Bush is a much nicer experience than the Original blended.
That said, I still think the average Meta-Critic score is a bit overly generous here. I would score it lower than the Meta-Critic – but then, I was also harder on the basic Bushmills Original too.
Redbreast has always had a strong following among single pot still whisky devotees. In Redbreast’s hands, this combination of malted and unmalted barley, triple-distilled in copper pot stills, produces a distinctive flavour profile that rivals many single malts. The standard 12 year old expression remains a staple for many whisky fans, with its great flavour-to-price ratio.
So you can imagine some trepidation when a new entry-level NAS version was announced, the Redbreast Lustau Edition. Rest assured, there are no immediate plans to retire the standard 12 yo expression. Lustau is meant to be a new permanent release, to complement the existing stable of standard Redbreast whiskies (i.e., the 12, 12 Cask Strength, 15 and 21 year olds).
The concept behind this new expression is interesting. Irish Distillers (who own Redbreast) have a close relationship with the sherry maker Bodegas Lustau in Jerez, Spain. For this release, they prepared customs casks from a local cooperage in Jerez, which first held Bodegas Lustau’s popular Oloroso sherry. The sourced Redbreast whisky for this expression comes from a mix of ex-bourbon barrels and sherry casks, blended together and finished in these Lustau first-fill sherry butts for one additional year.
It has been widely reported online that the base Redbreast spirit is between 9 and 12 years old for this expression. Bottled at 46% ABV, Redbreast Lustau is not chill-filtered, and no color has been added (which are always appreciated). Although not listed yet in inventory for the LCBO, I recently spotted it as a local store for $90 CAD (which is $10 more than the standard 12 yo).
Let’s see how it compares to the other Redbreasts in my Meta-Critic database, and some of the other wine cask-finished Irish whiskeys:
Redbreast 21yo: 9.20 ± 0.33 on 13 reviews ($$$$$) Redbreast Lustau Edition: 8.87 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast Mano a Lámh: 8.66 ± 0.44 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast All Sherry Single Cask 1999: 8.43 ± 0.90 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.03 ± 0.32 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.73 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Bushmills Sherry Cask Reserve: 8.20 ± 0.42 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton: 8.78 ± 0.35 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 14yo Twin Wood: 8.12 ± 0.69 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 16yo Twin Wood: 8.79 ± 0.48 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Teeling Silver Reserve 21yo Sauternes Finish: 8.90 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish): 8.47 ± 0.27 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Madeira Cask Finish: 8.55 ± 0.39 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Port Cask Finish: 8.54 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Sherry Cask Finish: 8.32 ± 0.16 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Although based on only 6 reviews above, the Lustau is more than holding its own against the standard 12 yo – and is scoring quite highly for the class overall.
Here is what I find in the glass:
Colour: Slightly darker than the standard 12 year old, with a bit more of a reddish hue that the usual Redbreast golden tones.
Nose: Definite sherry cask finishing, with chocolate, raisins, prunes and dates. Brown sugar and honey, with a bit of marzipan. Light fruits are still there, especially apple (think stewed apples). Some citrus (orange). Black licorice (anise) and a bit of cinnamon. I previously speculated there was some sherry cask in the 12 yo mix, but this definitely amps it up. It is not a “sherry bomb” though, and the integration of sherry notes to the base Redbreast character seems good. A faint hint of solvent, less noticeable than the 12 yo (likely due to the extra layering of sherry sweetness).
Palate: Sweet, in a honeyed way, with raisins and dates adding richness. Definite chocolate and nougat – almost candy bar like. Candied orange peel now. Oakiness comes through as well, with some spice – plus vanilla added to the cinnamon. Despite the higher ABV, it seems to have a less oily mouthfeel than the 12 yo – more like whipped frosting instead of the usual creaminess. Some of the classic Redbreast character may be subdued (i.e., less nutty here), but the effect is still pleasant, with more added than lost.
Finish: Moderately long, but fairly light. You get persistent sweetness and spice – and a rising flat cola effect that I first noted on the 12 yo. Some woody bitterness picks up, but it is less noticeable than the 12yo (again, likely due to the extra sherry sweetness here). Not particularly complex, but decent for the class.
Finishing in sherry casks can be a double-edge sword. For a base spirit with substantial character, it brings in additional notes and sweetness. But for a delicate base spirit, it can drown out the subtleties that provide identity (see for example my recent review of Westland American single malts).
The classic “sticky” single pot still character of Redbreast is able to hold its own here pretty well. It does seem to be lacking a few of the classic Redbreast features (i.e., the “tropical fruits” and nuttiness). But personally, I never found a lot of tropical fruit in the 12 yo any way (although I do detect them big-time in the 21 yo).
Perrsonally, I find this treatment has added rather than subtracted from the standard 12 yo expression. In a structured tasting alongside the 12 yo, this would be a great way to showcase the effect of additional sherry finishing. The higher ABV here (46% on the Lustau, compared to 40% on the 12 yo) is also helping with a greater flavour experience overall on the Lustau. Head-to-head, I expect most would prefer the Lustau (I know I do).
As an aside to how quaffable this new expression is, I actually drained the glass before I thought to add water! So I had to pour a second one to experiment. 😉 Water quickly dulls the nose, and if anything accentuates the solvent note. In the mouth, it further lightens the mouthfeel and doesn’t bring out anything new. Fairly neutral on the finish. As a result, I recommend you sample Lustau neat.
The persistent bitterness in the finish of the 12 yo was always a bit of a turn-off for me on that expression (and so, I personally ranked it a little lower than the Meta-Critic average). Although there are only a few reviews of the Lustau so far, the average score presented here is quite high, and in keeping with what I would give this expression. Nice to see a NAS expression that brings something new to the table!
Westland is a relatively new American whiskey maker, based in Seattle, Washington state. Rather than try to compete with the established US bourbon makers, they have opted instead to focus on a distinctive style of single malt whisky.
For this review, I’m going to look at their core range of single malts, as well as their most recent special release.
I recently had a tour of the distillery, and discovered that Westland malts and distills their own custom mashbill blend of five distinct types of barley – Washington Select Pale Malt, Munich Malt, Extra Special Malt, Pale Chocolate Malt, and Brown Malt. They use a Belgian “brewer’s yeast”, which is a different strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae than the ubiquitous type M distiller’s yeast that Scottish distillers use. Check out Whisky Science if you want to know all about yeast strains and whisky making.
Here are the wash still, spirit still and spirit safe, from the tour:
The Westland custom copper pot still design is also rather unusual, and looks a bit like a hybrid of a traditional pot still and a continuous column still (see close-up photos below). I gather they run it in different modes, on occasion.
Another area of distinctiveness is barrelling. Unlike old world malts – and much like other American whiskeys – most of the Westland distillate goes into charred virgin American oak barrels. Along with the other characteristics above, this makes for a distinctive product they like to call an “American single malt” (not that any such term has legal standing at present).
Of course, another reason for this virgin barrel selection is so that they can offer fairly young malt whiskies for sale. If they used ex-bourbon barrels for their core range (as is the case for most Scottish malts), they would presumably have to wait much longer before they produced a drinkable product. Check out my source of whisky flavour page for an explanation of what barreling adds to a whisky.
As an aside, I gather an increasing portion of their production is currently going into the ex-bourbon barrels, as they plan for the future. They also age some spirit in sherry casks, as I will describe below. And they have been experimenting with barrels of Garry oak (Quercus garryana), a species of white oak native to the Pacific Northwest.
Note that the French drinks group Rémy Cointreau (current owners of Bruichladdich) have recently acquired Westland. This suggests we will see a ramp up in production over the coming years, with greater brand awareness for Westland (and the American single malt category in general).
Let’s see how the core lines compare to other North American malt whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:
Balcones Texas Single Malt: 8.67 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Copperworks American Single Malt: 8.68 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$)
FEW Single Malt: 8.44 ± 0.53 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 10yo Ice: 8.19 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 10yo Rare: 8.01 ± 0.46 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 14yo: 8.06 ± 0.63 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 15yo Battle of the Glen: 8.52 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
High West Campfire: 8.78 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Stalk & Barrel Single Malt: 8.26 ± 0.40 on 12 reviews ($$$) Westland American Single Malt: 8.46 ± 0.27 on 10 reviews ($$$$) Westland Garryana: 8.66 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$$) Westland Peated: 8.53 ± 0.56 on 6 reviews ($$$$) Westland Sherry Wood: 8.30 ± 0.56 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Although the number of reviews are typically low for this class, the various Westland expressions seem to score toward the higher end of the group.
Now, on to a description of each of the various Westland whiskies, and my personal tasting notes:
Westland American Oak
This uses their standard 5-malt mashbill. It is aged for 2-3 years in mainly charred virgin American oak barrels, with some proportion of first-fill ex-bourbon. Bottled at 46% ABV. You could consider it their standard, base offering.
Nose: Caramel and vanilla are prominent (as you might expect from the virgin oak). Cinnamon. Lightly fruity, but nothing specific initially stands out (on repeated sampling, I started to find banana and citrus). Creamy. Seems young (not surprisingly), with classic acetone notes – but as bad as I expected for the age. Water brings up the baking spice further, and the sweetness.
Palate: Butterscotch picks up now, joining the caramel. Hint of cherries, but still not a lot of specific fruit. Boston cream pie. Texture is a touch waxy, and a bit light overall. With a little water, whisky gets a bit more chewy (which is good). Of course, sweetness picks up too.
Finish: Medium length. Surprisingly, some new elements pick up now that I wasn’t really getting on the nose and palate – particularly citrus (lemon and orange zest) and menthol.
This is better than I expected, given the age. There are less off-notes than other young whiskies I’ve come across, and a bit of complexity comes across in the palate and finish that wasn’t initially present on the nose. I think the Meta-Critic average score for this expression is fair.
Westland Sherry Wood
This uses the same distillate as the American Oak, based on the standard 5-malt mashbill. I originally expected that they used the same barrels from above and simply finished for a period of extra time in sherry casks (i.e., the label describes them as “matured in sherry casks”). But according to the tour, this expression is actually a vatting of the base spirit that was aged 50% in sherry casks (a combination of PX and Oloroso), and 50% in virgin American oak (i.e, same as the standard American Oak series). Again, aged for 2-3 years, and similarly bottled at 46% ABV.
Nose: Sweet barley notes, moreso than the American Oak. Dried dark fruits. Indeed, nose is very dry, suggesting a larger Oloroso component. That said, I do get some pancake/maple syrup notes as well, which could be from the PX. No real off notes, as these are hidden under the syrup.
Palate: Very syrupy, and less fruity. It is much sweeter tasting than the nose suggested. Getting some chocolate now, and some Graham crackers. But it feels like much of the complexity of the American Oak is lost in the mix, with the overwhelming sweetness.
Finish: Medium-ish, but very simple. Very sweet coating left on the tongue (and not much else).
Upon making the comment about how the nose seems biased more toward Oloroso, my tour guide responded that the early batches were mainly Pedro Ximénez, but currently they are using predominantly Oloroso in the mix for Sherry Wood.
Overall, this reminds me a bit of the new Pike Creek rum finish in Canada – it lacks complexity, and the subtle notes of the base spirit are drowned out by an overwhelming sweetness. Not particularly my cup of tea, so I would rate this one slightly lower than the base American Oak (as do most of the reviewers, it seems). But if you like a sweeter rum-like finishing, this could suit you.
Although Westland has found a domestic source of Washington state peat, it has taken them some time to get the whole process up and running. So all the peated expressions currently for sale stem from the original peated Scottish malt they sourced directly from the highlands (didn’t jot down the name, but it was near Inverness, apparently). The heavily peated malt distillate is mixed with spirit from some of their standard American 5-malt, making a lightly peated final product. They age this mix in a combination of virgin American oak and first-fill ex-bourbon barrels. Similarly aged 2-3 years, and bottled at 46% ABV.
Nose: Light smoke, with some sweet peat. Some lighter fruits, like pear and apple, and citrus. Vanilla and caramel. Pleasant enough, with no real off notes.
Palate: More peat shows up on palate, sweetened by the vanilla and caramel. Light smoke turns more to savory BBQ mesquite now. Actually makes you kind of hungry for BBQ ribs. A bit nutty. Don’t add water, as it lightens and dulls it immediately.
Finish: Medium. Peat is earthier on the way out, with some iodine notes and tongue tingle. Some fruit returning at the end as well.
A blend with a bit of Springbank comes to mind, as it has that sweet peat characteristic that turns toward iodine over time. I would personally put this at least on par with the American Oak for its overall character and quality. My only complaint is that it is very lightly peated – it may benefit when the domestic Westland peated malt comes online.
Westland Winter 2016 (Special Release)
I also had the option to try one of their special releases, and opted to go for this one (sadly, Garryana 2016 was already sold out). The Winter edition is a blend of nine casks – mainly ex-bourbon, one sherry ex-Oloroso hogshead (filled with peated malt), and an ex-Westland cask. The resulting grain bill is a bit different, coming out as 65% Washington Select Pale Malt, 14% standard 5-Malt, and 21% Baird’s Heavily Peated Malt. Aged just under 3 years, and bottled at a higher 50% ABV.
Nose: Similar light peatiness as the standard Westland Peated expression. Seems a bit less smokey – but that may be because the sherry notes are dominating. I get apple and raisins. Promising, but I’d like to see a bit more character here.
Palate: Sweeter on the palate again, with some syrupy notes (just as I found on the Sherry Wood). Smoke stays in the background, and never really crystallizes into a defined presence, unfortunately. A bit watery in texture for 50% ABV, with no real burn. Was hoping for a more chewy texture.
Finish: Medium short-ish. It seems like both the peat and sherry are diluted here, and I’m still not getting much of the base spirit complexity.
This vatting doesn’t really seem to add anything to the standard Sherry Wood and Peated expressions – in essence, it tastes like a combination of them. And like in the Sherry Wood, the sherry seems to be diminishing the base spirit rather than enhancing it. So I would personally have to give this a slightly lower score than the standard Peated (but still better than the regular Sherry Wood).
I was impressed with these early offerings from Westland, and to look forward to what is coming next. The base American Single Malt has an interesting malted barley mashbill, with above-average character.
It will be particularly interesting to see how their domestic peat experiment turns out. Aged in some of their native Garry oak barrels, this could indeed be a very distinctive American single malt.
Now here’s an interesting idea – engineer a whisky specifically formulated to appeal to those who like to smoke a cigar will sipping on one.
Dalmore is not particularly popular with malt enthusiasts, although I’ve known a few casual whisky drinkers who like them. They historically have straddled a wide range, with ultra-high-end aged expressions, and relatively low-cost expressions (particularly the previous 12 year old and original Cigar Malt). I think their focus on relatively sherried vattings has helped their general market appeal.
In recent years, their star has fallen as the entry levels have lost age statements and risen in price (and dropped in perceived quality). Specifically, the Cigar Malt was discontinued in 2009, and replaced with a slightly more expensive (but lower ranked) “Gran Reserva” shortly thereafter. They then subsequently discontinued the Gran Reserva and re-introduced a much more expensive “Cigar Malt Reserve” version in 2011. This time period coincides with their switch to a number of no-age-statement expressions (e.g. Valour), which have not been warmly received.
As an aside, I gather there was (and still is) some confusion with the Cigar Malt name, as it might make you think that tobacco was involved in the malting. Rest assured it wasn’t – these are as far removed from a smokey whisky as you can find. The point is that they are supposed to pair well with a cigar.
As I understand it, the original Cigar Malt sat between the original 12 and 15 year old expressions, in terms of both price and the age profiles of the whiskies that went into the blend. The current Reserve release is supposedly re-worked from older stocks, and is sold at a considerably inflated price (currently retails for $180 CAD at the LCBO, which is very premium for a NAS). It has also been upped to 44% ABV (from the original 40%).
This new Cigar Malt Reserve is believed to be a 70% vatting of Oloroso sherry casks, with the rest coming from American white oak ex-bourbon barrels, and finished to some degree in Cabernet Sauvingon barrels. Originally the Cigar Malt Reserve was intended as a limited release, but it seems to still be commonly available today. I sample this one at a bar in Oslo, Norway.
Let’s see how Dalmore does in my Meta-Critic database:
Dalmore 12yo: 8.43 ± 0.27 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore 15yo: 8.36 ± 0.52 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Dalmore Cigar Malt: 8.53 ± 0.44 on 5 reviews ($$$) Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve: 8.32 ± 0.64 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Dalmore Gran Reserva: 8.06 ± 0.39 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore King Alexander III: 8.32 ± 0.34 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Dalmore Valour: 8.07 ± 0.37 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
As you can see, all the common Dalmore expressions get below-average scores in my database (note that the overall average for the single malt class is currently ~8.6). They also tend to be rather expensive now. Also, note that the Cigar Malt Reserve has a higher than typical variation as well – which is always an interesting point to explore.
Let’s see what I find in the glass for the Cigar Malt Reserve:
Nose: Creamy nose, very biscuity. Caramel and tons of brown sugar – among the most I’ve nosed. Some sherry dark fruits (figs especially, and cherries), but not very fruity overall (although it may be buried under the brown sugar). Cinnamon. Strong Christmas cake impression. Water heightens the fruitiness further – although its odd to come across such a big, sweet, flavour-packed nose with so little overt fruit.
Palate: Caramel again, moving more towards toffee now. Citrus (orange peel) and some lighter fruits (pear and apple) join the classic sherry fruit notes. I was hoping the baking spices would pick up further, but it is really only lightly spiced. Mouthfeel is ok, but palate is lighter than expected overall, and not very complex. Don’t add water – it dulls the palate even further (although it helps bring up the fruit slightly). Honestly, a bit of a let-down after such a strong come-on with the nose.
Finish: Shortish, and fairly simple. That citrusy bitterness builds, but the overall effect is still caramel/brown sugar sweetness. Water shortens the finish further – don’t do it.
This is actually a hard one to score. While it has a bold (and crowd-pleasing) opening on the nose and initial palate, it fizzles out quickly on the late palate and the finish. Not being a cigar smoker, I don’t know how well this would pair with a stoagie. But as a stand-alone malt, it is likely to leave you somewhat wanting – it over-promises and under-delivers.
As such, I can understand now why the Meta-Critic standard deviation is so high. But at the end of the day, I think the overall average score is reasonable. You may find this to be a step-up from many of the entry level expressions of similar style – but not by much (and certainly not worth the price differential). Personally, I would give it a middle-of-the-road score, slightly up from the current Meta-Critic average (i.e., something closer to the original Cigar Malt average score).
Ah, the fabled Karuizawa distillery. Established in 1955, Karuizawa was one of the early pioneers of Japanese whisky production. Unusually for a Japanese whisky maker, they focused mainly on sherry cask aging. It was always a relatively small operation however, and production was eventually mothballed in 2000 (with the distillery permanently closing in 2011).
Karuizawa was located in a small town on the slopes of an active volcano, Mount Asama. Coming from the end of production, this Karuizawa Asama expression is a multi-vintage bottling of 77 casks from the final 1999 and 2000 vintages. It was bottled in 2012 by the company that bought out all the remaining casks when the distillery closed, Number One Drinks in the UK. Sadly, this is the likely the last Karuizawa release we are ever going to see. Note that this edition is different from an earlier Spirit of Asama release, through The Whisky Exchange.
I believe Karuizawa Asama was mainly released in Europe. It is bottled at 46% ABV, and the casks used were predominantly sherry butts (although some bourbon casks may have been included). As opposed to the expensive final age-statement Karuizawas produced under their own name, this Asama expression was initially sold at a budget price (for Karuizawa stock, that is). Since then, prices for the few remaining Asama bottles have skyrocketed (which is why it currently earns a $$$$$+ in my database).
But somehow, the Dr Jekyll’s pub in Oslo, Norway, recently managed to get some in at the original low price. Rather than gouge their customers, they offered it at 137 NOK (just over $21 CAD) for a standard 4 cl (1.35 oz) pour. That puts it at the same price point as an entry-level Scottish malt in the bar (note that liquor in Norway is among the most heavily taxed in Europe). I must say, even the bartenders were pretty surprised when they rang it up for me – all the other Karuizawas they have (including several OBs and a custom cask just for Dr Jekyll’s) are in the 400-800 NOK range (i.e., $65-$130 CAD a shot)!
I don’t track many Karuizawa vintages in my database, given their rarity and cost. But here’s how Asama compares to some other Japanese whiskies (especially those with some sherry finishing).
Hakushu Sherry Cask: 8.96 ± 0.43 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Ichiro’s Malt The Joker: 9.24 ± 0.22 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries: 8.64 ± 0.27 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Karuizawa 1990 Sherry Butt: 9.00 ± 0.30 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+) Karuizawa Asama Vintages 1999-2000: 8.63 ± 0.44 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Nikka From the Barrel: 8.81 ± 0.40 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve: 8.63 ± 0.32 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Yamazaki Puncheon: 8.63 ± 0.23 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Yamazaki Sherry Cask (all vintages): 9.07 ± 0.30 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)
Yamazaki 18yo: 9.14 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
There is clearly higher than usual variation in reviews of this particular Asama whisky (as there are with a couple of the other sherry cask finished Japanese whiskies). That’s always an interesting feature to explore further, and I’ll come back to this point at the end of the review.
Let’s see what I find in the glass:
Nose: Now that’s a bit different! You get the obvious hit of sherry (with figs, raisins, and nuts), but with attenuated smokey notes (spent matchsticks, extinguished campfire) and just a slight touch of peat. Very much a rancio profile – how odd for a Japanese whisky. Layered, but in a really unusual way that is hard to describe (“atypical” was the first comment in my shorthand tasting notes). A touch of lemon. Some salt. Slightly floral (hint of apple blossoms). Really distinctive – the closest thing in my experience would be some independent bottlings of Highland Park.
Palate: Like the nose, complex and layered. Definitely a drier type of sherry here, with dried fruits dominating. I do get some sweet syrupy notes however (brown sugar mainly, touch of maple). Spent matchsticks again (I think some people describe this dry smokey note as “gunpowder”). Chewy texture, great mouthfeel. No real burn to speak of. Certainly leaves a very favourable initial impression in the mouth – you don’t want to swallow! Doesn’t need any water, but a small amount brings up the sweetness slightly without affecting the other characteristics.
Finish: Nice and long, with slow lingering smoke. No real bitterness to my taste buds (YMMV, see comments below). Citrusy, but not a lot of variety on the fruit front, just a lingering sweetness (i.e., more juicy fruit gum than actual fruits). A bit of tobacco and leather. A touch more complexity here would have made it outstanding, but it is still excellent for the Japanese class.
A quality dram through and through. Its atypical-ness is something you are either likely to love (as I do), or feel frustrated by (i.e., it could seem “unbalanced” to some). I wish I could find a bottle for what the pub paid for it – but that’s highly wishful thinking. Instead, I made do with going back to Dr Jekyll’s the next night and having a second pour. 🙂
Never having expected to try it, I didn’t know much about this one ahead of time. As such, it is ironic that I had just finished the Mortlach 18 year old in the bar before trying Asama. Based on my earlier review of the Mortlach Rare Old, my description of the Asama here is similar to the profile that I would have expected from the Mortlach. But the Asama blew it out of the water on all fronts – nose, palate and finish. The Mortlach just seemed “closed” and toned down to me in direct comparison.
Those who are sensitive to sulphury notes may find the Asama a bit off-putting. As a discussed in the Mortlach Rare Old review, sensitivity to this “biological danger signal” is quite variable among different genetic populations. I suspect some of the sherry casks used here may have suffered from over-sulphuring. To me, that just introduced a distinctive character, but YMMV.
As you would expect give the above, variation among reviewers for this one is high. Like me, Serge of Whisky Fun loves it. Michio of Japan Whisky Reviews and My Annoying Opinions are conflicted on this one, and both give it lower than typical scores. The guys at Quebec Whisky are a good example the the range on this one: top marks from Patrick, above-average scores from Andre and Martin, and a low score from RV. If you get the chance to try it yourself, I highly recommend you give it shot.
Benromach is a tiny speyside distillery that makes an older style of single malt with a bit of peat smoke in it. This style is coming back into vogue now – I’m noticing a number of the established distilleries in this region (who don’t normally use peat) are starting to introduce new peated whisky lines.
Owned by the large independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail, Benromach is their attempt at becoming an official bottler. The Benromach10 yo (which was specifically engineered to replicate the lightly-peated speyside profile of pre-1960 era) has garnered a lot of attention from enthusiasts.
This review is of the standard 10 year old bottling, at 43% ABV. There is a different higher “100 proof” bottling out there (57% ABV, based on the Imperial proof system). My sample of the Benromach 10 came from the Redditor wuhantang. Here are how the various Benromachs compare to each other, and the competition:
Benromach Organic: 8.50 ± 0.51 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Benromach Peat Smoke: 8.45 ± 0.25 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Benromach Traditional: 8.38 ± 0.47 on 11 reviews ($$)
Benromach 5yo: 8.79 ± 0.20 on 4 reviews ($$) Benromach 10yo: 8.69 ± 0.26 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Benromach 10yo Cask Strength (100 proof): 9.05 ± 0.13 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Benromach 15yo: 8.62 ± 0.50 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Machrie Moor Peated: 7.91 ± 0.60 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach Birnie Moss: 8.26 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 10yo Curiositas: 8.58 ± 0.30 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore 12yo: 8.39 ± 0.28 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Islay Barley: 8.54 ± 0.23 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated: 8.78 ± 0.28 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Caol Ila 12yo: 8.70 ± 0.19 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Peated: 8.53 ± 0.27 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 10yo: 8.47 ± 0.28 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo (reviews post-mid 2014): 8.38 ± 0.36 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Jura Superstition: 8.25 ± 0.48 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Jura 10yo Origin: 8.00 ± 0.39 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Oban 14yo: 8.43 ± 0.40 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.68 ± 0.24 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Talisker 10yo: 8.91 ± 0.17 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
As you can see, the standard Benromach 10 yo compares favourably with most of the other well-established names in this space (e.g., scores on par with the Springbank 10 yo and Caol Ila 12 yo). That’s an impressive showing, especially given the lower price of the Benromach 10 yo.
Here’s what I find in the glass:
Nose: A strong malted barley backbone. Sweet, with barley sugar and some hay notes. Light fruit in the background, pear, peach and citrus mainly. Lightly peated, at around the Highland Park-level (but without the overt sherry influence, despite the finishing). A bit of oak coming through. Also some mild notes of dish soap and a touch of sweatsocks. Better than it sounds, this is actually quite pleasant.
Palate: Pear/peach again, orange, and some sweetness with golden raisins. Simple sugar and some butterscotch. Barley malt remains the main characteristic. Still has that hay note, but more grassy now. Some light spice picks up – more along the lines of pepper and Indian spices, not the typical baking ones. The off-notes from the nose are turning more toward glue now, but still not offensive. Smoke lingers nicely at the end, with some sweetness returning (first hint of that sherry finishing). As expected for the low ABV, somewhat light mouthfeel (i.e., a bit watery). Not bad, but not really a stand-out either.
Finish: Medium length. Smoke lingers on a Juicy Fruit gum base. A bit of dried ginger, which adds just the right note of bitterness to offset the lingering sweetness.
I would say the Benromach 10 yo is very good value for what it is: a solid single malt in this lightly-peated flavour cluster I. Personally, I would probably still give both the Springbank 10yo and Caol Ila 12yo a slight nod over this one, but I agree it is better than the entry-level Highland Parks.
It terms of other reviews, one reviewer who really helped put this whisky on the map is Ralfy. He gave it a moderately positive review, but then subsequently named it his “whisky of the year for 2014“. Ruben of Whisky Notes and Jan of Best Shot Whisky are very positive. My own assessment is more in-line with the moderately positive reviews by Nathan the ScotchNoob, Josh the Whiskey Jug and the guys at Quebec Whisky. There are no real negative reviews out there among my stable of reviewers (which is in itself quite positive).
As with last year, I am breaking this up by price point, style and flavour cluster. I will again focus on highly-ranked but relatively affordable bottles – and ones currently in stock at the LCBO. I am also going to focus on whiskies that are not necessarily available all year round – some of these only show up for a limited time around the holidays, so grab them while you can. Links to full reviews given, when available.
Hopefully this list is also relevant to those outside of Ontario, as it is based on high-ranking whiskies. As always, the Meta-Critic Whisky Database is here to help you sort through whatever possible options are open to you.
Budget Gifts < $50 CAD – American Bourbon and Canadian Rye Whiskies
You won’t find single malts in this price range (although there are some very nice Scotch-style and Irish blends, profiled below). But let’s consider the economical American bourbon and Canadian whiskies options here first.
While Ontario is not a good place to find higher-end American bourbons, we actually do have very decent prices on what we do get in. And we have at least a reasonable selection of the more entry-level and lower mid-range stuff.
It’s worth breaking bourbons down into different mashbill classes. The first is low-rye bourbons (i.e., a relatively low proportion of rye grain in the predominantly corn-based mashbill). Unfortunately, one of my favourites in this class – Eagle Rare 10 Year Old – is not currently available (although you might still find a few bottles at the some of the larger LCBO stores). So the closest thing is the more widely available Buffalo Trace at $43 CAD, getting a decent 8.56 ± 0.42 on 19 reviews. This is basically the same juice, though not quite the full 10 years of age.
A great choice that Ontario still carries is the Elijah Craig 12 Year Old at $48 (8.68 ± 0.29 on 20 reviews). This has been replaced by a younger no-age-statement “small batch” version in U.S. Note the 12yo version has a fairly pronounced “oaky” character.
Rated even higher is Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve ($57, 8.79 ± 0.27 on 10 reviews) – a popular cask-strength (60%) option.
For high-rye bourbons (which typically are more “spicy” tasting), you can’t go wrong with Four Roses Single Barrel at $46 CAD (8.72 ± 0.34 on 18 reviews). It’s worth the premium over the otherwise decent Four Roses Small Batch at $40 CAD (8.49 ± 0.44 on 19 reviews). Unfortunately, most of the other high-ryes I would recommend are currently out of stock (and unlikely to come back this year).
But why not try a quality Canadian choice? These are typically widely available all year round.
Sure, you could go for Jim Murray’s “World Whisky of the Year” for 2015 – Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye – for $35 CAD. It gets a decent Meta-Critic score of 8.59 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews. But like many, I consider it to be only an “average” Canadian rye.
As with last year, my top pick as the king of Canadian straight rye whisky is Corby’s Lot 40. Getting an excellent 8.90 ± 0.41 on 18 reviews, it is quite affordable at $40 CAD. One of the best aromas you will find in the rye selection at the LCBO.
Wiser’s Legacy is another solid choice, with an even higher 9.01 ± 0.35 on 15 reviews. Regularly-priced at $50 CAD, it has a spicy rye flavour (and is said to consist of Lot 40 in part).
As always, Alberta Premium Dark Horse at $32 CAD is a great buy – if you like a little sherry flavour in your rye. 8.62 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews.
Budget Gifts < $60 CAD – Scotch and Irish Blends
I don’t typically break down Scotch-style blends by flavour profile (as I do for for the more complex single malts below). But you can generally think of blends in two categories: those with some smokey/peaty flavours and those without.
For those who like a bit of smoke, Johnnie Walker Black at $57 (8.27 ± 0.49 on 21 reviews) remains a staple – and for good reason. It is higher ranked than most of the other smokey blends – but it is also priced higher. So if you want try something a little different on a budget, the LCBO also carries the higher-ranked but lower-priced Té Bheag for only $39 (8.47 ± 0.31 on 14 reviews). Pronounced chey-vek, this whisky has a more fruity character than JW Black, and even more smoke (if you think the recipient would like that). Another great choice is Great King St Glasgow Blend for $57 (8.57 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews) – one of the highest-ranked smokey blends I’ve seen.
For non-smokey blends, these are often imbibed as mixed drinks, or the classic scotch-and-soda. There are a lot very good blends out that you may not have heard of – unfortunately, the LCBO is not carrying many at the moment. For example, they are currently out of stock of Great King St Artist’s Blend for $55 (8.58 ± 0.38 on 18 reviews), which would have been a top pick. So why not try a great Irish blend instead: Writer’s Tears for $50 (8.47 ± 0.37 on 14 reviews). Unusual for an Irish whiskey, this is a blend of single malt whisky and classic Irish pot still whisky (which is a mix of malted and unmalted barley in a single copper pot still). Very flavourful, and a good value.
A personal favourite of mine in this group is Suntory Toki at $60 CAD (8.24 ± 0.63 on 5 reviews). I feel the quality here is higher than the Meta-Critic score indicates (which is based on only a limited number of reviews so far). It is delightfully fresh and clean, easy to sip neat, and is highly recommended in the classic Japanese “highball” (scotch-and-soda for the rest of us ;). Here is a chance for you to experience an authentic Japanese whisky, without the usual high cost. It’s a great introduction to the lighter Japanese style.
There is a lot more to consider here – especially for those on a tighter budget – so I suggest you explore the Whisky Database in more detail.
Premium Gifts up ~$100 CAD – Single Malt Scotch and International Whiskies
Single malts come in a wide range of flavours – much more so than any other class of whisky. As usual, it is worth recommending single malt whiskies by flavour “super-cluster”, as described on my Flavour Map page. I’m going to start with the more delicate examples below, followed by the more “winey” and “smokey” examples.
BTW, If you are interested in checking out another Japaenese whisky, consider the Hibiki Harmony at $100 (8.40 ± 0.61 on 14 reviews). It comes in a fancy decanter-style bottle, and has a richer yet still delicate flavour profile. Again, I think the Meta-Critic Score is unfairly harsh here – this is a lovely blend, and is a more flavourful expression than the Suntory Toki described previously.
Now onto the single malts …
Super-cluster G-H: Light and sweet, apéritif-style – with honey, floral, fruity and malty notes, sometimes spicy, but rarely smokey. Classic examples: Glenmorangie 10yo, Glenfiddich 12yo, Arran Malt 10yo/14yo, Cardhu 12yo
At $95 CAD, the Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old is my top pick in this category (8.68 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews). That is a phenomenal score for this flavour supercluster (i.e., delicate whiskies always score lower than winey/smokey ones). The Dalwhinnnie is a fairly delicate whisky, but there is a surprising amount of subtlety here. It has a lovely honey sweetness to it (but is not too sweet), and has just the slightest hint of smoke in the background. Well worth a try – a staple of my liquor cabinet.
Backup choices you may want to consider are The Arran Malt 10 Year Old at $70 CAD (8.55 ± 0.33 on 20 reviews), and the An Cnoc 12 Year Old at $80 CAD (8.62 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews). The Dalwhinnie is worth the slight extra though, in my opinion.
Super-cluster E-F : Medium-bodied, medium sweet – with fruity, honey, malty and winey notes, with some smoky and spicy notes on occasion Classic examples: Old Pulteney 12yo, Auchentoshan 12yo, Glenlivet 12yo, Macallan 10yo Fine Oak
It is actually on border of Super-cluster E-F and cluster I (due to the moderate smoke), but my top pick here is Amrut Fusion, from India. At only $86 CAD, and scoring an amazing 8.90 ± 0.24 on 22 reviews, this is certainly an excellent choice. It’s also an opportunity for those looking to explore some extra “tropical” fruit flavours in their whisky – check out my full review above for more info on this whisky. Note that this one is very popular, and so stock levels are already starting to drop across the LCBO.
Otherwise, my top mid-range choice in this category is an Irish whiskey, the $80 CAD Redbreast 12 Year Old. Redbreast is a single pot still whiskey. As mentioned earlier, this is a traditional Irish style, where both unmalted and malted barley are distilled together in single copper pot still. The end result is thus closer to a Scottish single malt than a blend. It gets a very good 8.75 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews.
If you are looking for a budget option in this class, check out the Auchentoshan 12 Year Old. At $65 CAD and scoring 8.27± 0.26 on 21 reviews, this is a step up from your typical ubiquitous Glenfiddich/Glenlivet 12yo.
Super-cluster A-B-C : Strong winey flavours, full-bodied, very sweet, pronounced sherry – with fruity, floral, nutty, honey and spicy notes, as well as malty and sometimes smokey notes Classic examples: Aberlour A’Bunadh, Highland Park 18, Glenfarclas 105, GlenDronach 12yo, Auchentoshan Three Wood
My top pick here remains the Aberlour A’Bunadh. I don’t understand how this has remained at $100 CAD, given the quality of the various batches. It gets an impressive 8.95 ± 0.17 on 22 reviews overall. While there is some variability between batches, this is not usually significant. Note however that this is a cask-strength whisky, so it packs a higher concentration of alcohol than typical. And inventory tends to disappear fast around this time of year – it’s a popular one.
My budget choice, at $73 CAD, remains the GlenDronach 12 Year Old. It gets a very respectable 8.57 ± 0.22 on 20 reviews. It packs a lot of flavour.
Now, let’s dial back down the winey flavours, and instead bring up the smokey complexity.
Cluster I : Medium-bodied, medium-sweet, smoky – with some medicinal notes and spicy, fruity and nutty notes Classic examples: Talisker 10yo, Highland Park 12yo, Benromach 10yo, Springbank 10yo, Bowmore 10yo
In addition to the Amrut Fusion already mentioned above, you would do well to stick with a classic member of this class: the Talisker 10 Year Old. At $100, it gets an excellent 8.91 ± 0.17 on 21 reviews. I don’t think you can go wrong with this choice. Also very nice, but with low availability is Longrow Peated ($101, scoring 8.79 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews). It is right on the border with the smokier Cluster J, though.
A reasonable budget choice – especially if you like a little sherry in your smoky malt – is the Highland Park 10 Year Old ($65, 8.47 ± 0.28 on 14 reviews) or 12 Year Old ($80, 8.38 ± 0.36 on 12 reviews). Unfortunately, quality seems to have dropped in recent batches of the 12yo, otherwise this one would have been a a top pick (i.e., it used to score higher).
Cluster J : Full-bodied, dry, very smoky, pungent – with medicinal notes and some spicy, malty and fruity notes possible Classic examples: Lagavulin 16yo, Laphroaig 10yo and Quarter Cask, Ardbeg 10y and Uigeadail
For the smoke/peat fan, you really can’t top the value proposition of the Laphroaig Quarter Cask – only $73 CAD, yet garnering a very high meta-critic score of 9.02 ± 0.27 on 21 reviews. That’s a remarkable score for the price, if you are into these peat bombs.
Surprisingly, it’s even cheaper than the standard Laphroaig 10 Year Old expression ($84 CAD, 8.92 ± 0.29 on 14 reviews). The Ardbeg 10 Year Old is another consideration for an entry-level expression ($100 CAD, 8.95 ± 0.34 on 21 reviews). If you like a wine-finish, for a very limited time you can order a bottle of this year’s Laphroaig Cairdeas for $100 (2016 Madeira edition, 8.82± 0.48 on 8 reviews) through LCBO online.
Of course, there is a lot more to consider if you are willing to go a bit higher. Stretching the budget a bit to $123 CAD, a very popular favourite is the Lagavulin 16 Year Old. It gets an incredible meta-critic score of 9.23 ± 0.23 on 25 reviews. Full of a wide array of rich flavours, I find it a lot more interesting than the younger peat-bombs above. Just be prepared to smell like a talking ash-tray for the rest of the evening!
Again, whatever you choose to get, I strongly suggest you use the Whisky Database to see how it compares to other options in its respective flavour class or style.
Amrut Spectrum is a unique whisky science experiment.
Whisky is aged in wood containers (typically called barrels, casks, or butts), usually made from some type of oak. As I explain in my Source of Whisky Flavour, the complex interaction with wood over time imparts a lot of the main characteristics to the final product.
But there is more than just time involved. The barrels can be made of different types of oak, which affects the final flavour. And they may be virgin wood (with the internal surface potentially charred to varying levels), or used barrels having previously contained other spirits (e.g. various types of fortified wine, other whiskies, etc.). The whisky can be transferred from one type of cask into another during aging, to introduce additional flavours (referred to as “finishing”). In the end, it can be bottled from a single cask – but more commonly, it is from a vatting of multiple casks (often including different cask styles).
Amrut Spectrum is something unique – a true single cask, yet reflecting multiple sources of wood. The base spirit spent 3 years in traditional ex-Bourbon oak barrels before being transferred into a single custom barrel for another 3.5 years. This unique custom barrel was built using the staves of 5 different kinds of barrels: new American Oak with moderate charring, new French Oak with light toasting, new Spanish Oak with light toasting, ex-Oloroso Sherry staves, and ex-Pedro Ximenez (PX) Sherry staves.
In case you are wondering about the young age, the hot and humid climate of India results in accelerated aging compared to cool climes (at least for many of the characteristics of wood aging). See my Amrut Fusion review for a discussion.
Diluted to 50% ABV, only 1000 bottles of Amrut Spectrum were produced from this single barrel. I managed to pick one of these up in my travels.
Here is how it compares to other Amruts in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:
Amrut Bourbon Single Cask: 8.75 ± 0.33 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Fusion: 8.90 ± 0.24 on 22 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Greedy Angels: 9.29 ± 0.30 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Amrut Intermediate Sherry: 8.93 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Kadhambam: 8.98 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Naarangi: 8.61 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask: 8.80 ± 0.37 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portonova: 8.99 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask: 8.80 ± 0.51 on 7 reviews ($$$$) Amrut Spectrum: 9.12 ± 0.18 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Two Continents: 8.80 ± 0.46 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
As you can see, Spectrum gets the second highest score for an Amrut whisky, second only to Greedy Angels.
Here is how it compares to some other single malts in flavour cluster C (i.e., complex whiskies that are not heavily winey or peaty):
Amrut Spectrum: 9.12 ± 0.18 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Balvenie 17yo Doublewood: 8.72 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Bunnahabhain 18yo: 8.99 ± 0.16 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve: 8.26 ± 0.66 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Glengoyne 18yo: 8.56 ± 0.41 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenlivet Nadurra 16yo: 8.86 ± 0.19 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Glenmorangie Companta: 8.85 ± 0.57 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.12 ± 0.24 on 22 reviews ($$$$$)
Tomatin 18yo: 8.66 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Yamazaki 18yo: 9.16 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Spectrum is holding pretty close to the Highland Park 18 yo and Yamazaki 18 yo, which are among the top whiskies in this class.
Let’s see what I found in the glass. To start, the colour is more rosewood than the typical mahogany of sherry cask-aged tropical whiskies.
Nose: Incredibly complex, and a study in contrasts – dry at times, yet also juicy, with a lot going on. On the fruit side, mainly plums, figs, raisins and oranges (plus a few mixed berries, including strawberry). Milk chocolate and cocoa powder. Earthy, with dry tobacco and fresh leather. Woody without being “oaky” – more like polished hardwood. Soft wood spice, coffee and bit of pepper. A faint hint of glue (but this is not objectionable).
Palate: Getting it all here. The sweet sherried fruitness of the nose kicks in first (plus some apple and pear now), but then quickly transitions to a more dry oaky mix. The oak definitely seems more prominent on the palate than the nose. Some sweet tropical fruits show up. Cinnamon sticks and nutmeg add to the spice and cocoa powder. Then on to moist earth and a bit of anise. Finally, and some mixed nuts – and that classic fortified wine rancio taste. What a ride! Thick and rich mouthfeel – luxurious, you just want to hold it in your mouth. No bitterness, but a slight sourness comes in at the end.
Finish: Long and lingering. A good mix of dried fruit and wood spice, with a bit of chocolate orange. More sourness than bitterness. Slightly drying. A touch of cola comes up at the end. Very nice.
This is genuinely hard to describe – so much is going on here. The closest comparison I can think of is a blend of the various Kavalan Solist single casks – but the Spectrum isn’t as drying, and is a bit sweeter than most. I suppose you could also think of it as a cross between an aged single cask Glendronach and one of their cask-strength vattings (but less sherried overall).
In essence, what you are getting here is the quality of a top-pick single cask AND the wide variety of flavours that can come from multiple types of wood finishing or selected vatting. In my experience, vattings of multiple wood finishes tend to lose some distinctiveness. But the Spectrum keeps each of these individual components, in good measure. The flavours truly come in waves, making this a unique and quality experience.
But don’t take my word for it. Thomas of Whisky Saga and Serge of Whisky Fun are both very positive for this whisky. There are a couple of good reviews on Reddit, by Devoz and shane_il. A bit more tempered (but still very positive) are Jason of In Search of Elegance and Oliver of Dramming/PourMeAnotherOne. Hopefully Amrut repeats this experiment so that more can try a bottle.
Amrut Intermediate Sherry is not particularly well-known – which is a shame, given the quality of this distinctive single malt.
Amrut Distilleries is the first Indian single malt whisky-maker. A number of their recent expressions have won major International awards. As a result – and like Japan and Taiwan before them – they have now become quite popular with Scotch malt whisky aficionados.
I have previously reviewed one of their more entry level malts, the lightly-peated Amrut Fusion. Please see that review for more background information on Amrut, and on the challenges of maturing whisky in a hot and humid environment.
For Amrut Intermediate Sherry, the distilled spirit starts off in a mix of ex-bourbon and virgin oak casks. It then gets transferred into sherry casks before going back into bourbon casks to complete its final maturation (hence the “intermediate sherry” name). Note that while there is not a lot of information about this distinctive process online, the product label inside my box specifically states that the whisky is transferred into “Spanish ex-Oloroso sherry butts” for one year. I will come back to this point later at the end of my review.
Amrut Intermediate Sherry is bottled at cask-strength, 57.1% ABV in this case. It is obviously not chill-filtered, and I believe no artificial colouring is used. My bottle is from batch 20 (2015).
Here is how it compares to other similar cask-strength single malts in my Meta-Critic Database:
Amrut Fusion: 8.90 ± 0.24 on 22 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Kadhambam: 8.98 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews ($$$$) Amrut Intermediate Sherry: 8.93 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portonova: 8.99 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask: 8.80 ± 0.51 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach Cask Strength: 8.85 ± 0.11 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (batch 4): 8.91 ± 0.31 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (batch 5): 8.87 ± 0.11 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glengoyne Cask Strength (all batches): 8.59 ± 0.55 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 9.02 ± 0.32 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.14 ± 0.35 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.97 ± 0.34 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Cask Strength: 8.89 ± 0.40 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Yamazaki Sherry Cask (all vintages): 9.07 ± 0.30 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)
Here is what I find in the glass:
Color: Rich golden/orangey brown. You can see the effect of ex-bourbon and sherry cask aging.
Nose: Rich nose, bringing in both moist earth and dried tobacco. Very sweet, with heavy raisin and grape overtones, along with blueberries and tropical fruits like banana and kiwis. Chocolate fudge and vanilla cake. This is not your typical Oloroso sherry-finished single malt. Surprisingly, not much ethanol singe despite the high ABV.
Palate: The berry notes from the nose are accentuated, with blackberry and red currants joining the strong blueberry presence. I get a definite impression of blueberry-banana pancakes with maple syrup! Surprising kick of rye spices, particularly cinnamon and all-spice, plus a bit of anise (black licorice) and pepper. Very spicy overall – I’m guessing most of this must be coming from the oak casks. Creamy mouthfeel, but with a drying effect over time. This moist earth/syrupy/astringent combo reminds me of some of the Kavalan fortified wine-finished casks. Water brings up the sweeter port-like grape flavours.
Finish: Medium long. Sweet wood notes, like hickory (but not as smokey). Lingering fruit, like left-over blueberry pie crust. There is a drying astringency, and a bit of bitterness creeps in over time (but it is not excessive, and water helps here too). A touch of that classic nutty rancio aroma from fortified wines shines through.
The blueberry experience is really wild here – I can’t say I’ve ever come across this much of it before. But this is definitely not your typical dry Oloroso sherry-finished expression. Indeed, I’d say it tastes more like a mix of various fortified wines – including both sherry and port – went into finishing this one.
Trusting my taste buds, I decided to look into its background a little further. I eventually found this Business Standard article where the Amrut VP of production specified that they used “400-litre sherry ‘butts’ imported from Spain and Portugal” (emphasis mine). If this quote is accurate, it would suggest that they mean “sherry” in only a very loose sense – and are in fact incorporating some port casks in the intermediate step. That would certainly help to explain the classic Portuguese port-like flavours that I am getting here, along with the classic Oloroso sherry and ex-bourbon cask finishing.
Personally, I slightly prefer the Amrut Intermediate Sherry over the Amrut Portonova – which is a classic cask-strength, pure port-finished single malt (and one that I plan to review soon). The Intermediate Sherry probably handles water a bit better as well – it helps bring out some additional flavours, without taking anything away.
Glengoyne is a Scottish distillery that straddles the traditional border between Highland and Lowland regions. Technically, I believe their stills are located north of the imaginary line, and their maturing facilities are to the south. They don’t use any peat for drying their barley, and are thus probably closer stylistically to the typical lowland producers.
They are also known for their reliance on sherry casks for maturation. That is not to say all their expressions are “sherry bombs”, but you can typically detect a consistent sherry flavour motif running across their lines.
They used to produce a 12 year old cask strength single malt, but this was replaced a few years ago with a no-age-statement version, prepared in defined batches. As with the GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 4/5 recently reviewed, you can expect some variability from batch to batch. For this review, I have a sample from a recently acquired batch 4 bottle – brought back from the distillery by a colleague of mine.
Glengoyne reports that the composition of this whisky is 20% first-fill European oak sherry casks, 10% first-fill American oak sherry casks, and 70% oak refill casks. It is not chill-filtered, no colouring is added, and is bottled at cask strength (58.8% ABV in the case of batch 4).
Here is how it compares to other Glengoynes, and similar cask-strength whiskies in the Meta-Critic Database:
There is an unusually high variance in scores across most batches of the Glengoyne Cask Strength. The number of reviews are low across batches, but it seems like there are higher differences of opinion than usual. There also seems to be a trend toward lower scores over subsequent batches, but that is hard to tell for certain – the numbers are low, and I have few examples of repeated batch testing by individual reviewers.
Here is what I find in the glass, for batch 4:
Nose: Intense dark brown sugar, almost Demerara level. Maple sugar too – so sweet, I can imagine the crunchy sugar crystals. A bit of cream thrown in. Mixed berry compote, with a pastry note (berry crumble). Figs and raisins, but not very pronounced. Oat cakes. A bit of alcohol singe (which water oddly doesn’t help). A nose for baked fruit lovers!
Palate: More fruit shows up now – apple, pear, and peaches – none of which I detected on the nose. And even more raisins and sultanas, very ripe and juicy. Cinnamon toast. Peppery kick. Rich mouthfeel, somewhat buttery. You can feel the higher ABV, but it doesn’t need much water to tame it – I recommend just a few drops.
Finish: Medium long. The buttery oak flavours linger a good while, along with cinnamon and a stronger white pepper presence. Pancake syrup sweetness initially, but bitterness comes in over time, and builds over sips, which detracts for me personally.
A real dessert dram, with all its sweet fruit, brown sugar, and baked-goods notes. As an aside, I checked the producer’s tasting notes after finishing my own above, and was pleasantly surprised to find such a close concurrence. Didn’t notice any banana initially, but I can kind of see that too.
I initially thought I would rank this one higher than some of the equivalent age-statement Glengoynes, as the Cask Strength benefits from the higher ABV. But I don’t like the lingering bitterness in the finish, which increasingly detracts for me as I sip it. In the end, I think the Meta-Critic average score for batch 4 (and all batches overall) is fair.
But I can see why reviews of this whisky would be so variable – while some might like the punch it packs, it is likely going to be too sweet for others. Nathan the Scotch Noob has just posted a review of batch 4. Although of the previous batch 3, André and Patrick of Quebec Whisky neatly encapsulate the widely differing opinions of this whisky. Otherwise, Serge of Whisky Fun was very enthusiastic for batch 1, and only slightly less so for batch 2. Thomas of Whisky Saga gives a typical score for batch 2. Redditor xile_ gives a low-normal score for batch 4.