Tag Archives: Single Malt

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.

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.

 

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.

Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak

As I’ve previously reported, Kavalan offers two of their most popular Solist expressions – Bourbon Cask and Sherry Cask – in a vatted format, known as the Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak and Sherry Oak, respectively.  In Asia, these batch versions of the Solists are available at both cask-strength (typically ~54-59%, just like the single casks Solists) and at a reduced 46% ABV. Here in the Western hemisphere, I’ve only seen the 46% ABV versions.

Supposedly, these two “Oak” series are vatted from the exact same type of casks used for the named Solist series. But it stands to reason that they probably cherry-pick the best casks for the single cask offerings, and vat the rest. Still, it is a good chance to sample what the distillery character is like (in a more consistent fashion), without having shell out for the more expensive (and rare) Solist single cask versions.

These Oak-series whiskies are typically available as both full 700 mL bottles and 50 mL miniature glass bottles. As with my Sherry Oak review, my sample here is of the 46% ABV, 50 mL ex-Bourbon Oak version. Bottling code is 2015.05.08 16:15. The bottle came in a cardboard box, and so was protected from light.

Here is how the various Kavalan bottlings compare in my Whisky Database.

Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.29 ± 0.54 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.43 ± 0.36 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.63 ± 0.33 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.77 ± 0.34 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Bourbon: 8.85 ± 0.22 on 19 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.98 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.78 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.01 ± 0.72 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.08 ± 0.35 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.94 ± 0.36 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)

There aren’t a lot of reviews to go by, but the 46% ABV vatted version of the ex-Bourbon Oak seems to be doing quite well.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: Light apple juice – frankly, one of the palest Kavalans I’ve seen yet.

Nose: Fruity, with lush tropical fruits like papaya, mango, pineapple, and banana (including green banana). Touch of citrus. Light honey and vanilla. Not creamy per se, more of a buttery note. Grassy, with some hay (fresh cut for both, not dry). Sweet. No off notes, which is impressive. Water dampens all of the above, and may bring up a touch of solvent (oddly), so I would skip water for nosing.

Palate: Not quite as sweet as the nose, but there’s no mistaking that time in bourbon casks. Tons of vanilla and caramel. Rich oak without the typical spice or bitterness, doesn’t seem to have been aged too long. Noticeable coconut, and a bit nutty in general. But again, not very spicy, with maybe just a touch of nutmeg. Buttery texture. Fair amount of tongue tingle, but not offensive. Sweeter with water, which also helps with tingle (but doesn’t fully extinguish it).

Finish: Caramel continues, with some of the light spices coming up now (nutmeg).  A touch astringent, but not really bitter. Some of tropical and green fruit also show a resurgence. Very nice and even. With water, some bitterness does enter in.

I recommend you go sparingly with water on the 46% ABV version – it certainly needs no more than few drops at most.

All in all, a very pleasant ex-bourbon expression, very good for the presumed young age. Much better than the standard Kavalan single malt expression. As an aside, my wife – who is not a big scotch drinker – really liked this one.

Among reviewers, Dominic of Whisky Advocate is very positive, followed by washeewashee of Reddit (for the cask-strength version), Jim Murray, and Patrick of Quebec Whisky. Worth picking up if you come across a sample bottle in your travels.

Sullivans Cove French Oak Single Cask

Welcome to my first Tasmanian single malt review.  Tasmania is an isolated island state off Australia’s south coast, and has been seeing a boom in whisky production lately. Sullivans Cove is arguably their most well-known distillery. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they have won numerous international whisky awards in recent years.

Indeed, this particular French Oak single cask single malt, which is finished in port wine casks, won “Best Australian Whisky” at the 2013 World Whiskies Awards and then “World’s Best Single Malt Whisky” at the 2014 World Whiskies Awards. This latter one is a little odd in my view for a single cask whisky – it doesn’t really help you know what to except from all the other casks out there. And you could never track down the same winning cask – we can only hope that there is not a lot of variability from cask to cask (and I expect there is).

In any case, these expressions are bottled at a reduced ABV (47.5% for the sample I tried), and the age varies from between 11 to 12 years old. I don’t have the specific bottle code for the one I tried earlier this year, but I know it was barreled on 8/8/2000 and bottled on 1/25/2012 (so, 11 years old, in other words).

Here is how Sullivans Cove compares to other port-finished malt whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

Amrut Portonova: 9.00 ± 0.30 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask (all casks): 8.77 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Port Cask Finish: 8.59 ± 0.37 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Balvenie 21yo Port Wood: 8.80 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)
BenRiach 15yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.44 ± 0.28 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 17yo Solstice Peated Port (both editions): 8.98 ± 0.28 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 15yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.35 ± 0.42 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 18yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.74 ± 0.39 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask: 8.29 ± 0.54 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.78 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Sullivans Cove American Oak: 8.63 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Sullivans Cove Bourbon Cask Strength: 8.54 ± 0.73 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Sullivans Cove Double Cask: 8.29 ± 0.49 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Sullivans Cove French Oak: 8.67 ± 0.27 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Sullivans Cove Port Cask Strength: 8.55 ± 0.62 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Tomatin 14yo Portwood: 8.60 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

Despite the early awards, most Sullivan Cove expressions get fairly typical average scores in my Meta-Critic Database.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Caramel, vanilla, and milk chocolate are the most prominent notes. Baked goods – but more like a Blondie bar than a brownie (although there is a bit of dark chocolate too). Citrus, and some apple. There’s a general fruity sweetness, but nothing else very specific (i.e., seems more like fruit-flavoured candy, think Haribo gummy bears or fruit roll-ups). A little nutty. No real off notes.

Palate: Wow, tons of butterscotch and toffee notes now – very buttery, in fact. White chocolate is also prominent (that’s a first for me), along with hazelnut. The dark chocolate has become subdued, more like just a touch of bitterness now. Creamy mouthfeel. Really, this tastes is like a some sort of specialty chocolate bar that has been liquefied! Same candied fruit as the nose. Some mild baking spices (nutmeg), a touch of pepper. A bit grassy.

Finish: Fairly short, unfortunately. Or perhaps not, given the overwhelming sweetness of the nose and palate. The bitterness of the dark chocolate comes back at the end, along with that slight candy fruitiness.

Sullivans.Cove.French.OakVery unique experience. Closest thing in my mind is probably Glenmorangie Signet – but amped-up, with white chocolate and butterscotch.  Definitely not an everyday dram, but this could easily serve as a decadent dessert replacement at the end of a meal.

Not really getting much of the port finish here (beyond that sweet candied fruitiness). It does reminds me a bit of the old Pike’s Creek 10 Year Old Port Finish here in Canada (before they switched to finishing in rum casks). But this is really overwhelming in its sweetness.

This whisky was a hit for Serge of Whisky Fun and TOModera of Reddit. It also garnered fairly positive reviews from Jim Murray and Ruben of Whisky Notes (although only an average score from Ruben). Dominic of Whisky Advocate is moderately positive (but giving it a below average score). The only actually negative review I’ve seen is Craig of Malt Maniacs. While I appreciate that it is a quality product, it is not something I could see myself going for very often. I think the overall Meta-Critic average is reasonable.

Bushmills Sherry Cask Reserve Single Malt

Not having had a lot of luck with the main Bushmills’ expression (although Black Bush is certainly decent and drinkable), I was intrigued when I came across a higher-end sherry cask travel retail exclusive single malt at an international airport duty free. It wasn’t cheap though, working out to over $100 USD in currency conversion for a bottle.

This was of course the first of the new “Steamship” series from Bushmills, a collection  of three permanent special cask-matured expressions, beginning with the Sherry Cask Reserve. The name of the collection is inspired by the historical SS Bushmills, built in 1890. Apparently, this steamship traveled the world, and transported refilled spirit casks from all over, and back to Ireland during her active service.

Bushmills Sherry Cask Reserve is pure single malt whisky, not a blend like the cheaper Bushmills.  While it is a no-age-statement (NAS) whisky, it is matured exclusively in Oloroso sherry butts.  That certainly sounds at least minimally promising – although it is disappointingly bottled at the minimum strength of 40% ABV.

Fortunately, it was on promotion in the store, so I was able to sample a generous pour while waiting for my flight. This also gave me a chance to compare it directly to Black Bush side-by-side (which I have had before, and was also available for tasting).

I will reserve my usual discussion of the Meta-Critic scores for Bushmills to the end, as I was not tracking this whisky in my database at the time of sampling (and so, had no pre-existing bias going in).

Here is what I found in the glass (well, plastic cup):

Nose: Definite sherry presence, more so than Black Bush. Classic raisins and figs, along with brown sugar. But still not quite as sherry-rich as I was expecting, suggesting to me that  they are probably using second (or later) refill casks. Classic Bushmills apple cider. Vanilla and cinnamon. Malty, with some lighter grassy notes (no grain, of course). No burn either, consistent with the low ABV. No real off notes. Certainly off to a decent enough start.

Palate: More on the apple and pear notes now, with somewhat lighter sherry fruits (i.e., more golden raisins as opposed to figs or prunes). A bit of spice (baking spices), which is nice, and that rich brown sugar note persists.  Complex for a Bushmills, but it still seems a bit simple overall – and with the typical watery mouthfeel of this brand. This really should have been bottled at a minimum 46% ABV to give it some character.  Still, it is pleasant enough to sip on, and has more depth than Black Bush.

Finish: Short. Longer than other Bushmills (notice the repeating refrain?), but still not very long by the standards of other all-sherry cask-aged whiskies. A simple persistent sweetness lasts the longest.

All in the all, this is probably the first truly decent Bushmills that I’ve had.  It would make a good introduction for someone interested in experiencing sherry finishing, without jumping right into a sherry-bomb. But I really think the casks used here have seen too many previous refills – they just seem a bit tired. And I can’t fathom why they bottled this at such a low 40% ABV.

Overall, the flavours kind of remind me of the entry-level Dalmores. That analogy is pretty apt in another sense as well – like most Dalmores, I find this expression is over-priced for what it is.

The only reviews for Sherry Cask Reserve I’ve seen among my Meta-Critic reviewers are Jonny of Whisky Advocate (who gives it medium-low score), and Jim Murray (who gives it a veryy low score).  Personally, I’d rate it higher, closer to the overall average for an Irish whisky in the database (~8.4-8.5).  To put that in perspective, here’s how the Meta-Critic scores play out across Irish whiskies, and the Dalmores already mentioned:

Bushmills 10yo Single Malt: 8.18 ± 0.29 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.49 ± 0.48 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.37 ± 0.39 on 22 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.67 ± 0.46 on 17 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Sherry Cask Reserve: 8.16 ± 0.43 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Dalmore 12yo: 8.42 ± 0.27 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore Valour: 8.06 ± 0.36 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot: 8.48 ± 0.36 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton: 8.80 ± 0.38 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 14yo Twin Wood: 8.30 ± 0.31 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.73 ± 0.41 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast Lustau Edition: 8.72 ± 0.30 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast Mano a Lámh: 8.65 ± 0.37 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish): 8.51 ± 0.31 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Writers Tears Red Head Single Malt: 8.4 ± 0.41 on 3 reviews ($$$)

There are too few scores right now to give this a meaningful interpretation. At the end of the day, I would expect this to do at least as well as Black Bush (i.e., I found it noticeably better, side-by-side). And again, I think the scores for the entry-level Dalmores are probably a pretty good indicator as to what to expect for this expression in the end.

I wouldn’t recommend purchasing a bottle at the current travel retail price, but if someone gifted it to me, I’d happy to sip on it periodically.  Best suited for when you want a little flavour, but nothing too complex or challenging. Black Bush is much better value for money, though.

Highland Park 25 Year Old

The Highland Park 25 Year Old has long been one of the highest-end official expressions available from this Orkney island distiller.

As I noted in my earlier review of the Highland Park 18 Year Old, this distillery has an unusual profile of rich sherry-cask notes and distinctive island peat. The additional aging here should further enhance the wood-derived characteristics, and attenuate the peat presence.

I recently had the chance to sample a 2005 edition bottling. This one was bottled at 50.7% ABV cask strength. The current bottling (48.1% ABV) sells for a rather steep for $900 CAD at the LCBO.

Here is how the 25 yo expression compares to other Highland Parks in my Meta-Critic database:

Highland Park 10yo: 8.52 ± 0.26 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo (all reviews): 8.66 ± 0.22 on 25 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 15yo: 8.70 ± 0.22 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Highland Park 15yo Fire: 8.74 ± 0.37 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 17yo Ice: 8.72 ± 0.28 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.07 ± 0.22 on 25 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 21yo: 8.90 ± 0.40 on 16 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 25yo: 9.14 ± 0.23 on 14 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 30yo: 9.14 ± 0.41 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 40yo: 9.17 ± 0.43 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park Dark Origins: 8.50 ± 0.47 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Highland Park Valkyrie: 8.74 ± 0.22 on 6 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see, it gets one of the highest scores for this family. Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, and very fruity – including berries, banana, cantaloupe and grapes. Seems almost port-like in its characteristics. I’ve never gotten this much fruit from a Highland Park before. Honey. Strong wood spice, plus some eucalyptus – kind of reminds me of Old Spice after-shave. Anise. Something vaguely Springbank-like with its sweet peat notes. Only lightly smokey, but very complex, with lots going on here. No real off notes.

Palate: ‎ Initial smoke, but it fades quickly. Caramel, and sort of a burnt toffee sensation joining the honey. Berries and mixed fruit salad. Oranges. Wood spice as expected, slightly bitter. Coffee and a touch of chocolate join the anise. Good mouth feel – though not as strong as I expected for 50.7% ABV (i.e., not as thick, but still coats well). You can really taste the extended wood aging. In the end, this really isn’t very smokey.

Finish: Long. Nice mix of fruit and wood spice. No real bitterness or other impairments.   Again, not much smoke though.

Adding water makes it a touch sweeter (bringing up the honey in particular). It also seems to accentuate the wood spice. Your call of course, but I think it benefits from a few drops.

I can see why this scores so well – it is really a pretty flawless presentation, with no off notes at any point. It’s also very complex – especially on the nose, which I like (I’m a big fan of sniffing my whisky). It is heavily oaked without being bitter, which is impressive. If I were to have any criticism it would be the lower levels of smoke than I’m used to from Highland Park. For the price, I’d personally prefer the Caol Ila 30 Year Old over this, mainly for its extinguished campfire notes. And where I am, I can get the fruity and woody Redbreast 21 Year Old for almost a quarter the price (although of course, it is completely unpeated).

There aren’t many reviewers who have compared multiple editions, but Serge of Whisky Fun gives this edition a very similar score to the earlier and later editions. Ruben of Whisky Notes gave this expression is a very good score, slightly higher than newer expressions. For the various versions, most reviewers are very positive – including Jim Murray, Oliver of Dramming, My Annoying Opinions, and Thomas of Whisky Saga. The guys at Quebec Whisky are the typically moderately positive.

Paul John Bold

As I mentioned in inaugural review of Paul John Edited, this Indian single malt whisky maker is starting to get wider international exposure. Next up is my review of Paul John Bold – a fully peated Indian whisky.

Apparently, peat is brought over to Goa from Islay for this expression, where it is used to dry their 6-row Indian barley. This differs from the original Edited edition, where imported peated Scottish barley was added to their standard unpeated Indian barley. As a result, I would expect a more heavily peated expression here – but one clearly showcasing the Paul John house-style.

Bottled at 46% ABV, I picked up a full bottle of this one during my travels in Western Canada late last year. I believe I paid ~$85 CAD for it.

Here is how it compares to other Indian whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Amrut Bourbon Single Cask: 8.74 ± 0.32 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Fusion: 8.89 ± 0.25 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Indian Single Malt: 8.26 ± 0.82 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt: 8.69 ± 0.32 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt Cask Strength: 9.14 ± 0.18 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask (all casks): 8.77 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Two Continents: 8.81 ± 0.44 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Paul John Single Cask: 8.90 ± 0.33 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Paul John Classic Select Cask: 8.62 ± 0.37 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Paul John Brilliance: 8.47 ± 0.37 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Paul John Peated Select Cask: 8.78 ± 0.26 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Paul John Bold: 8.75 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Paul John Edited: 8.46 ± 0.48 on 8 reviews ($$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Definitely a peated malt – phenolic, but more smoke and gasoline exhaust than your typical Islay peated whisky. Almost like toasted barley? Sweet, in an uncomplicated simple syrup sort of way. Some vanilla. Green apples and some citrus (lemon). Cumin seeds. A bit funky, similar to some of the younger Swedish whiskies I’ve reviewed recently.

Palate: Strong honey note now, definitely a sweet one. A bit of caramel. Some red delicious joins the green apple. Lemon drop candies. Scottish oat cakes and arrowroot baby biscuits. Grassy. Not really much peat here. Mouthfeel is a bit light for 46%, would have been better a little higher, I expect. Dare I say it – this is “smooth.” Easy drinking, you could polish this off pretty quickly if you weren’t careful.

Finish‎: Medium length (a bit quick for a peated whisky, though). Surprisingly, a lingering fruity sweetness lasts the longest (plus some vanilla cake frosting). Faint lingering smoke, but not as much you would might have expected from the initial nose.

Water brings up the fruit notes on the nose, but waters down the mouthfeel slightly (and brings up the sweetness even more). I recommend you drink it neat. If you do add water, probably no more than a few drops.

Not a particular complex whisky – but a pleasant enough sipper, and very easy to drink neat. You might even call it elegant. This is one for when you just want to relax with friends (who don’t mind the strong phenolic nose). Certainly better than the Edited I recently tried, but I again would score this slightly lower than the Meta-Critic average.

Among reviewers, Jim Murray is again a huge fan. Fairly positive are Jonny of Whisky Advocate, Serge of Whisky Fun, as well as Unclimbability and Devoz from Reddit. Worth trying out if you get the chance.

 

 

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