Tag Archives: Single Malt

Smögen 4 Year Old Single Cask 7/2011

Smögen is an example of the new breed of “craft” whisky distillers setting up operations in Sweden. Established in 2009 by a young couple in the coastal region of Bohuslän, it is of course only recently that their whiskies have become available for sale (well, “available” is a relative term – available for those in-the-know in that part of the world).

BOX distillery (which I recently reviewed several whiskies from) is another Swedish craft distiller that has produced enough to start supplying some international markets (i.e., I’ve spotted them recently in Switzerland, and are even starting to show up here Canada). Smögen currently only has capacity for about 35,000 litres per year. So it will be some time before these show up more widely, I expect.

Check out their website for more info on their whiskies (Swedish-only at present). Thanks to Chrome’s auto-translate feature, I know that their focus is on whiskies that will be “powerful, smoky and of great character”, focusing on “quality in small batches, with full manual manufacturing and direct monitoring.”

While I’m generally not a fan of young whiskies, I was very impressed with what BOX has managed to do in a similar amount of time. I suspect part of the reason for this is the “accelerated aging” that comes from using smaller barrels (and in some cases re-constituted quarters casks or smaller), along with more extreme local temperature fluctuations.

I received a couple of samples of Smögen whisky from Whisky Saga’s Thomas Øhrbom is a swap earlier this year.

First up is a Smögen 4 Year Old Single Cask, laid down in 2011 (#7/2011). Bottled at cask strength of 57.3% ABV. This 4 year old Smögen whisky was fully matured in a first-fill Sauternes barrique cask. Sauternes is a French sweet wine made from white grapes of the Bordeaux region. Barriques (also known as Bordeaux barrels) are relatively tall and have a capacity of 225 litres.

The Smögen website has lots of info on this bottling. The malt batch for this barrel was based on the Optic barley strain, dried to at least 45 ppm phenol content. The whisky was distilled on March 11, 2011, and bottled on March 28th, 2015.  It was released in August of 2015, with limited Nordic/UK distribution (and immediately sold out). The total out-turn was 429 bottles of 500 mL size (so, not a lot of share for the Angels here!).

There aren’t many reviews of Smögen whiskies in my database, but here’s what I have so far (including for this single cask), relative to some other Swedish whiskies:

Box Dálvve: 8.63 ± 0.28 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Box PX – Pedro Ximénez Finish: 8.90 ± 0.09 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.91 ± 0.05 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The Festival 2014: 8.94 ± 0.13 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Brukswhisky: 8.45 ± 0.60 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Moment Glöd: 8.84 ± 0.41 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Reserve Single Cask (various casks): 9.01 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 03: 8.69 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 04: 8.76 ± 0.35 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 05: 8.50 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 07: 8.51 ± 0.51 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Ek: 8.34 ± 0.23 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Rök: 8.71 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.65 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Smogen Primor: 8.50 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smogen Sherry Project 1:4: 8.82 ± 0.32 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Smogen Single Cask (all editions): 8.85 ± 0.13 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smogen Single Cask 4yo 7/2011: 8.94 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus: 8.60 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 1 Dubhe: 8.29 ± 0.42 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 2 Merak: 8.40 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 3 Phecda: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.58 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Spirit of Hven Urania: 8.55 ± 0.46 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)

As an aside, all the information above was compiled after I did my tasting of the Smogen whisky samples. I didn’t even know Smogen used peated malt until after I opened the bottle (i.e., I like to approach these tastings blind).

Here is what I find the glass:

Nose: Sweet peat with a slight medicinal twist. Wood smoke. Main fruits are dark-skinned plums and grapes, plus some tropical “green” notes (papaya in particular). Very woody, but with dried spruce, juniper and other conifers in addition to the usual oak. Menthol, camphor. Reminds me of some Mackmyra expressions (i.e., very Swedish presentation, especially of the oak). Salt and pepper, with some exotic spices (miso?). Mild off notes, reminiscent of Islays (i.e., a bit funky). It is clear that this is a heavily peated whisky that has spent time in a concentrated sweet wine cask.

Palate: Very honeyed sweetness in the mouth. Honey is really the overwhelming initial characteristic (must be from the sauternes casks). This is followed by rich caramel and peat (producing an almost burnt caramel taste, thanks to the smoke). Those dark-skinned plums and grapes show up next. Chocolate. Traditional wood spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Anise. Pepper with a touch of chilli powder. Very luxurious mouthfeel, almost syrupy at 57.3%. But you can surprisingly still easily drink this one neat. A bit of bitterness creeps it after a few sips, but it is mild. Impressive presentation, lots going on here.

Finish: Long, with the woody characteristics coming back and lingering. A mix of chocolate and caramel, with the wood smoke there to round out.  Quite pleasant.

With water, the fragrant conifer notes are enhanced on the nose (frankly, it becomes a bit too woody, if you ask me). In the mouth, water doesn’t have much of an effect on the flavours, but it does lighten the mouthfeel. On the finish, it seems to enhance the burnt caramel. As a result, I recommend you drink this one neat for best effect. If do you try adding any water, go very sparingly.

An old trick I learned once is to hold a mouthful of water and then take a sip of whisky (all without swallowing). This tends to reveal the most dominant note, as the whisky immediately dilutes and warms in your mouth. In this case, honey was the key characteristic that I found here, followed by the peat. Goes to show you how a cask can dominate a distillate, even in a fairly young peated whisky.

A real in your face, balls-to-the-wall kind of whisky, with a few rough edges – but still very enjoyable. Not exactly an everyday sipper, but a great experience – and one that has me curious to try other Smogen whiskies.

Among reviewers, Jim Murray and Serge of Whisky Fun are both extremely positive on this single cask whisky. Thomas of Whisky Saga is more moderate in his score. My own assessment is somewhere in the middle of these three. Worth seeking out any of their single casks, if you get the chance.

Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish

I have tried a number of Arran Malt whiskies over the years, and find them generally decent enough, if not overly interesting (at the younger ages, at least). Of the ones I have tried so far, the best experience has been the 12 year old cask-strength, where the extra ABV seems to have really brought up the core Arran flavours.

I tend to enjoy most cask finished whiskies, so I’ve been curious to try the higher-strength cask-finished Arrans. In this review, I look at one of the more unusual finishes, the Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish.

Amarone is a type of dry Italian red wine made from partially-dried grapes from the Valpolicella region (mainly Corvina). This drying produces a very rich and concentrated wine, full of fruit flavours. Apparently, in Italian, the name Amarone literally means “the great bitter”, which does differentiate these wines from more common sweeter red wines.

It is far more common to use fortified sweet wines (like sherry) for finishing whisky, so I was curious as to what effect Amarone barrels would have on the relatively gentle Arran base malt. Bottled at 50% ABV, it was $93 CAD when last available at the LCBO.

Here is how the various Arran Malts compare in my Meta-Critic database, first among standard bottling, then among wine cask-finished bottlings:

Arran Malt 10yo: 8.51 ± 0.29 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt 12yo Cask Strength: 8.65 ± 0.38 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 14yo: 8.67 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 17yo: 8.85 ± 0.24 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 18yo: 8.93 ± 0.13 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Arran Malt Bourbon Single Cask: 8.88 ± 0.20 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Lochranza Reserve: 8.07 ± 0.56 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Machrie Moor Peated: 7.90 ± 0.56 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Orkney Bere Barley: 8.82 ± 0.31 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Robert Burns Single Malt: 8.14 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$)
Arran Malt Sherry Single Cask: 8.55 ± 0.54 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt The Devil’s Punch Bowl: 8.89 ± 0.31 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)

Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish: 8.77 ± 0.34 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Madeira Wine Cask: 8.67 ± 0.43 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Napoleon Cognac Finish: 8.72 ± 0.69 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Pomerol Bordeaux Cask Finish: 8.34 ± 0.66 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Port Cask Finish: 8.61 ± 0.38 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Sassicaia Wine Cask Finish: 8.76 ± 0.17 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Arran Malt Sauternes Finish: 8.52 ± 0.32 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Sherry Cask Finish: 8.31 ± 0.55 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Arran Malt Tokaji Aszu Wine Finish: 8.79 ± 0.35 on 4 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see, the Arran Amarone Finish gets one of the highest scores for a wine casks-finished Arran, comparable to the moderately-aged Arran malts.

As an aside, Arran has really specialized in finishing their young whisky in a number of unusual casks types. Only a limited number of these are shown above, as I only track expressions that have received a reasonable number of reviews (and many are no longer available). But this strategy is one way to get your product on the market and garner attention, while you wait for batches to age. Of course, that’s assuming you have paired your product wisely.

My sample of the Arran Amarone Finish was obtained through a swap with the Redditor Throzen. Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: An unusual pinkish hue, almost like a rose wine.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it (Arran doesn’t artificially colour this expression).

Nose: Unsweetened raspberry jam, with cranberries, green grapes, ground cherries (gooseberries) and sour cherries. A bit of citrus. Sweet vanilla. Creamy. A bit of paint thinner and acetone initially, but these fade with time in the glass. Water increases both the sweetness and sourness of the fruit, but adds no new notes.

Palate: Unsweetened fruit compote in a glass, with a strong emphasis on the tart notes (sour cherries and citrus). Strong oaky vanilla. Earthy, with some mild nutmeg. A touch of chocolate adds to the character here. Hot on the way out, even for 50% ABV (i.e., fair amount of ethanol burn). With water, the top berry/cherry notes get sweeter. Water doesn’t seem to do much for the burn, unless you add a fair amount (i.e., takes awhile to get the sting down).

Finish: Medium. The fruit notes turn more toward dry strawberry paste, and the grapes pick up again. A noticeable astringent dryness comes in at the end, with some bitterness. The raw ethanol fumes from the palate persist here, even with water – making for a distinctive experience (but not a particularly pleasant one). Water is generally helpful throughout, and enhances the lingering sweetness (but doesn’t affect the bitterness).

Arran.Malt.AmaroneFinishing the base Arran malt in dry, but flavorful, Amarone barrels makes for an interesting set of counterpoints (i.e., it’s sweet on the nose, but drying on the finish). I haven’t come across quite this flavour profile before, and it is always fun to experience something new.

That said, I’m thinking there’s a reason why most producers don’t use Amarone casks – the effect is a bit too tart and drying. The youthful aspects of the Arran malt are still coming through as well. In the end, I’m not sure how successful a pairing this really is – it might have helped to start with an older malt, with more inherent character. Or a sweeter one – see for example my recent review of the Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton. In any case, water is certainly called for here – a little bit helps bring up the fruitiness, without affecting the ethanol burn.

There’s actually a fair amount of variability among reviewers on this one. Jim Murray is a big fan, as are the guys at Quebec Whisky. In contrast, Tone of Whisky Saga and Josh the Whiskey Jug are among the most negative I’ve seen. Reviews are generally fairly positive on Reddit (see for example TOModera), although unclimbability gives it an average score. I am personally somewhere near the lower end of the score range, giving it a slightly below average score for the single malt class. I like the novelty, but I can’t see myself reaching for it very often.

 

Box Dálvve 5 Year Old

Dálvve is a significant release for Box distillery. Typically characterized as a “craft distiller,” this is the first whisky to form part of their core range. Released on November 7th, 2016, this whisky is slowly starting to appear in markets around the world. It is also the first whisky they have released in standard 700 mL bottles (up to now, everything has been 500 mL, I believe).

The name dálvve comes from the ancient language of the Sami people of northern Sweden and Norway, and means “winter.”  Very appropriate, given that Box is one of the most northerly distilleries in the world, located at 63° N. They also experience extreme fluctuations in temperature, which helps to accelerate the aging of their whisky (along with their use of rebuilt quarter casks and smaller custom casks – see my inaugural review from this distillery for more info).

As always, the Box website gives tons of info on this release.  As a whisky geek, I really appreciate the incredible level of detail they provide. But to summarize, for batch 1, the composition is:

  • 63.48% is 5.24 year old unpeated whisky from 200-litre 1st fill bourbon casks
  • 24.13% is 5.23 year old peated whisky from 200-litre 1st fill bourbon casks
  • 12.39% is 5.07 year old unpeated whisky from 135-litre 1st fill bourbon casks

Yeast was the Fermentis Safwhisky M-1. Ingoing barley was Tipple, Quench, Publican, Henley and Sebastian. Unpeated malt was Pilsner malt from Vikingmalt in Halmstad, Sweden. Peated malt was Pilsner malt from Castle Maltings in Belgium. Peated to 39ppm phenol content using Scottish peat (making the final blended mix lightly peated overall).

Batch size was 1.2 tonnes of malt, with an average fermenting time of 80 hours in stainless steel vats. Distilled between 2nd May 2011 and 27th September 2011. Website has tons of additional features on the distillation, including cuts from the still if you are curious (i.e. times for the foreshots, etc).

For aging, 200-litre bourbon barrels were obtained almost exclusively from Heaven Hill and Jack Daniels distilleries. The 135-litre quarter casks were re-built from bourbon barrels by Speyside Cooperage.  Up until October 2014, the casks were stored in a damp warehouse (and thus lost some of their relative alcoholic strength). From October 2014 to August 2016 they were stored in a drier environment in Box warehouse number 3.

On the 24th of October 2016, 6986kg of whisky with an average alcohol content of 59.54% were emptied into a blending vat. Alcohol content was adjusted to 46% at the time of bottling. Bottled between the 28th of October and 3rd of November 2016 in a series of 14,015 bottles. Dálvve is neither cold-filtered nor has colouring been added.

Currently, batch 2 is now available – but I managed to snag a bottle of the original batch 1 in my travels. Note that batch 2 uses slightly less peated malt than the original batch 1 presented here (again, full details on all batches are available on the website link above).

There aren’t many reviews of Box whiskies so far, but here is how it compares to some of the other major Swedish whiskies in the same price range:

Box Dálvve: 8.63 ± 0.28 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Box PX – Pedro Ximénez Finish: 8.90 ± 0.09 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.91 ± 0.05 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The Festival 2014: 8.94 ± 0.13 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Brukswhisky: 8.45 ± 0.60 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Moment Glöd: 8.84 ± 0.41 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 03: 8.69 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 04: 8.76 ± 0.35 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 05: 8.50 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 07: 8.51 ± 0.51 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Ek: 8.34 ± 0.23 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Rök: 8.71 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.65 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Smogen Primor: 8.50 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smogen Sherry Project 1:4: 8.68 ± 0.13 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus: 8.60 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 1 Dubhe: 8.29 ± 0.42 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 2 Merak: 8.40 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 3 Phecda: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.58 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

Again, you should treat all entries as provisional until at least 7-8 reviews are in. But these early reviews seem to slightly favour Box over their main Swedish competitors.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: One of the lightest malt whiskies I’ve seen. White gold in appearance.

Nose:  Lightly peated – there’s a hint of something vegetal and medicinal, but not a lot smoke.  Apple juice (Granny Smith) and lemon juice originally, followed by pears and green grapes. Something tropical, but I can’t place it. Vanilla and caramel. Just a bit grassy, with some oak influence (plus a bit of conifer). Hints of turpentine (but not bad). Well constructed, it reminds me a bit of some the decent lightly peated blends from Compass Box (i.e., Great King Street style blends). With water, I get a touch of old sweatsocks – kinda nice, actually.

Palate: Sweeter in the mouth, with barley sugar followed by caramel and vanilla. Also those oak spices – cinnamon in particular, plus some pepper. Sea salt. Little fruit, just a bit of apple and lemon juice again. The peat has a maritime characteristic, but is fairly subdued. Mouthfeel is a little watery for 46% ABV, but not bad. A bit of tongue tingle and ethanol heat, consistent with its young age. Slightly tannic tea, with a little bitterness on the way out. Water lightens the mouthfeel, but doesn’t really affect the heat or tingle. But water does bring in a white chocolate note – plus light honey, which is nice.

Finish: Medium-short. Its youth shows itself here – there is not really much complexity in the finish. Mainly salted caramel, oak spices and a light fruitiness (with that lemony citrus in particular). Just hint of wood smoke persists, but it otherwise doesn’t seem very peated. But no off notes, which is impressive for the age.

An easier sipper, nothing really to criticize here (except its relative youth). It is a bit light, compared to the higher-end offerings from Box. But certainly a lot better than Scapa Skiren or Bowmore Small Batch, if you have tried those entry-level peated malts. Something like the Hakushu 12 year old might be a good comparable for the style.

I’m glad they bottled Dalvve at 46% ABV. It does seem to benefit from just a few drops of water, though. For when you are in the mood for a gentle, lightly peated malt – clean and cleansing.

Jonny of Whisky Advocate is a huge fan of this whisky, giving it a top score. Thomas of Whisky Saga gives it a just below average score – which is where I would score it as well, given its youth and limited complexity. But great to see Box finally launching a core range – looking forward to more releases!

Compass Box Flaming Heart 2012 (4th Edition)

Compass Box makes a range of very popular scotch vatted malts and blends, with a careful attention to sourcing and blending.

Just a quick point of clarification – a vatted malt (now officially known as a blended malt) is a blend of pot-distilled malt whiskies from different distilleries. A single malt is blend of malt whiskies from a single distillery. And a blended scotch whisky is a blend of malt whisky and cheaper grain whisky distilled in a column still. See my Single Malts vs Blends page for more details. In practice, the only distinction between a blended malt and a single malt is the distillery source.

Compass Box has actually had five releases of Flaming Heart to date, commonly identified by year or by edition (release) number, beginning in 2006. In the case of two of these, they are also known as the Anniversary Editions, relative to the founding of Compass Box by John Glaser in 2000 (i.e., 10th Anniversary in 2010 and 15th in 2015). It can get a little confusing, as this differs from the numbering system of Peat Monster, which is similarly identified by Anniversary Editions every five years – but according to the initial release date in 2004.

When Flaming Heart was first launched, Compass Box provided the exact breakdown of what went into the malt blend on its website, which include aged malt from Caol Ila and Clynelish (among others), aged mainly in refill or “rejuvenated” ex-bourbon barrels with some French oak casks.

Eventually, a controversy erupted with the censure of Compass Box by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). The SWA is the trade organization that represents (and regulates) the Scotch whisky industry. This full composition disclosure by Compass Box fell afoul of the SWA regulation that requires only the youngest age of a whisky be publicly stated. As such, Compass Box was forced to relent from officially disclosing the composition of its whiskies these last few years.

There is actually a good reason for this SWA rule, as it prevents unscrupulous blenders from emphasizing a small contribution of a long-aged component to an otherwise youthful blend. But in this case, it is restricting Compass Box’s ability to be transparent on the full range of whiskies underlying their blended products. A number of distillers have joined with Compass Box in lobbying to get this regulation amended, but to no avail as yet.

So, all Compass Box says now for this 4th edition Flaming Heart is that the sourcing is single malt whiskies from distilleries located in the Northern Highlands (primary the village of Brora), Islay (primarily from the south shore of Islay), Speyside and Islands. The wood is a combination of refill American oak (ex-Bourbon), new French oak (heavily toasted) and sherry casks (which is a new twist for Flaming Heart). It is bottled at 48.9% ABV, and is non-chill-filtered with only natural colour.

Compass Box offerings typically get high ratings for their price points, and Flaming Heart is no different. Here is how it compares in my Meta-Critic Database to other peated Compass Box offerings, and similar lightly-peated Islay malts.

Big Peat: 8.80 ± 0.22 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 10yo Tempest: 8.82 ± 0.17 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 12yo: 8.40 ± 0.28 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore 18yo: 8.56 ± 0.46 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scottish Barley: 8.39 ± 0.44 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Islay Barley (all vintages): 8.58 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Ten: 8.83 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach: 8.81 ± 0.28 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain Toiteach: 8.59 ± 0.38 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Caol Ila 12yo: 8.72 ± 0.18 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Caol Ila 18yo: 8.66 ± 0.49 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Caol Ila 25yo: 8.88 ± 0.21 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Caol Ila 30yo: 9.30 ± 0.19 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition (all editions): 8.67 ± 0.38 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Clynelish 14yo: 8.81 ± 0.25 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Compass Box Eleuthera: 8.57 ± 0.39 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2008 2nd Edition: 9.07 ± 0.27 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2010 3rd Edition – 10th Anniversary: 8.92 ± 0.36 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2012 4th Edition: 8.98 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 5th Edition – 15th Anniversary: 9.03 ± 0.32 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart (all editions): 8.99 ± 0.27 on 19 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Lady Luck: 8.71 ± 0.42 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Peat Monster (all editions): 8.77 ± 0.27 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Compass Box The Lost Blend: 8.96 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box This is Not a Luxury Whisky: 8.77 ± 0.46 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Port Charlotte An Turas Mor: 8.71 ± 0.28 10 reviews ($$$$)
Port Charlotte PC10 Tro Na Linntean: 8.96 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated: 8.75 ± 0.26 on 15 reviews ($$$$)

Note that Flaming Heart just slips in at the low end of the $$$$$ price group, at ~$155 CAD (on average, world-wide).

My sample of the 4th edition comes from Redditor slackerdude.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: Very light straw, slightly golden hue.

Nose: Classic peated whisky notes with sweet peat, wood smoke, soot/ash and a slightly briny presentation – but not overly medicinal. Dried red fruits, especially berries and red currants, and light apple juice. Definite sourness, like gooseberries (i.e. ground cherries). Tons of lemon oil. Vanilla with a bit of caramel. Old leather. Grassy, with a touch of hay. A bit of cinnamon and some sea salt. Finally, just a touch of old sweatsock funk and bandaid glue (as is common to many southern Islays). Great nose.

Palate: Not quite as bold as I was expecting from the nose – but the peat is certainly more evident here. It just seems like the smokey notes have become more subtle in comparison. Some meatiness now, like the fat droppings on an extinguished campfire. Apple and berries, and even more lemon (the zest has been added). Caramel. Some oaky spice (chili?). A bit of pepper joins the cinnamon and sea salt. Great mouthfeel, slightly oily. It has a bit of that liquefied smoked meat taste that I sometimes find on older Islay bottlings, but it stills feels younger and fresher for the most part.

Finish: Medium-long for a light smokey blend. Peat and smoke linger. A slight herbal bitterness comes through eventually, but it is mild. That lemony citrus feels very cleansing on the way out.

On first whiff, this really brought back memories of some older lightly-peated Islays I’ve had (like the Coal Ila 30yo official bottling). However, this is rapidly joined by a number of more youthful characteristics, ending up more like the peated Glen Garioch 1995 Vintage (the lemon notes in particular are distinctive). Still very evocative and pleasant, this seems a bit younger overall than the reported mixes for earlier Flaming Hearts. But this is still a good bargain for a such a quality presentation.

Water lightens the nose, and enhances the caramel sweetness in the mouth. I don’t think it needs any, but adjust as you prefer. My only minor complaint here is the finish – while nice, it could be a bit longer and more robust. After this, I’m curious to try some other editions.

The highest score I’ve seen for this 4th edition of Flaming Heart comes from Serge of Whisky Fun, with similarly very high scores from Jim Murray, Dominic of Whisky Advocate and the guys at Quebec Whisky (I am closest to this camp). Also fairly positive on this edition are Jan of Best Shot Whisky and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. The lowest rating I’ve seen is an overall average score from Thomas of Whisky Saga.  To see additional reviews of the more recent 2015 5th Edition (15th Anniversary), check out Jason of In Search of Elegance, Ralfy, Nathan the Scotch Noob and Ruben of Whisky Notes. Honestly, there are no negative reviews of any edition of this whisky, it is a great buy.

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016 Madeira Cask

Càirdeas means friendship in Gaelic, and this is the name given to an annual special release associated with the Friends of Laphroaig. Pronunciation is a bit trickier than usual on this one, as I’ve heard everything for car-chus to care-chase (to kier-das to cord-dis, etc.). I guess it depends on where exactly you are from.

Released annually at Fèis Ìle – the Islay Festival of Music and Malt – there is a different theme behind each year’s bottling. The 2016 edition is a no-age-statement (NAS) Laphroaig, originally matured in ex-bourbon barrels, with a second maturation in Madeira-seasoned traditional hogsheads.

Madeira is a Portugeuse fortified wine that, like Port, comes in dry, semi-dry/sweet and sweet forms. What’s different about Madeira is the “Estufagem” process of cask maturation – a special heat and moisture treatment that is meant to replicate the historical journey of Madeira casks in the early days of seafaring trade. By law, this now involves cooking the wine at 55°C for at least 90 days (but see comments from Jason Hambrey below). This accelerated aging of the wine has the side effect of also impregnating the wood staves of the casks with a lot of spiciness and fruit flavours. As a result, most would consider Madeira cask-aged whiskies to be sweet and fruity, regardless of the source form of Madeira used.

Bottled at an impressive 51.2% ABV, this limited edition Laphroaig is quite reasonably priced at $100 CAD at the LCBO (I got mine early, before they all disappeared).

Here is how the various Cairdeas expressions compare to each other, and the standard Laphroaigs, in my Meta-Critic Database:

Laphroaig 10yo: 8.87 ± 0.24 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength: 8.96 ± 0.35 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig 15yo (200th Anniversary): 8.80 ± 0.29 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig An Cuan Mor: 8.87 ± 0.14 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2013 Port Wood: 8.83 ± 0.46 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2014 Amontillado: 8.95 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2015: 9.16 ± 0.17 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016 Madeira: 8.83 ± 0.42 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Lore: 8.62 ± 0.32 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Laphroaig PX Triple Matured: 8.81 ± 0.57 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig QA Cask: 7.27 ± 0.56 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Laphroaig Quarter Cask: 8.31 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Select: 8.04 ± 0.36 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Laphroaig Triple Wood: 8.70 ± 0.34 on 17 reviews ($$$$)

Perhaps not surprisingly, the 2016 Madeira-finished Laphroaig has a similar average score (and variance) as the 2013 Port-finished edition. Average scores for these special bottlings are toward the higher end of the range of Laphroaigs in this price range.

Here’s what I find in the glass:

Colour: Definitely a wine-cask finish, with a lot red hues (though otherwise light).

Nose: Sweet, with some of the classic Laphroaig peat reek buried below the fruit (pear, apricot and a bit of cherry and raspberry). A bit citrusy too. Vanilla. Not as medicinal as I would have expected for a Laphroaig (seems to be overwhelmed by the fruit). A touch floral (herbal?). With water, caramel joins the vanilla.

Palate: Not as fruity, except in a general light fruit and citrus sense (fruit seems mainly on the nose). Honey.  Butterscotch. Spicy notes, with black pepper. Briny, like salted cod. A touch of wet cardboard. Slightly creamy texture (nice mouthfeel, actually). With water, the oakiness picks up, as well as the sweetness. Caramel and brown sugar are added to the mix.

Laphroaig.Cairdeas.2016Finish: Long. Sweet peat again, like the nose. Smoke lingers, as well as some ash. The classic Laphroaig medicinal notes finally poke through, along with a slight sourness. But the sweetness lasts the longest (surprisingly).

I must admit, this is a bit of strange one. Not sure how much demand there is for a such a sweetened Laphroaig. Honestly, I wouldn’t have pegged this as a Laphroaig at all, until that finish settled in. I suspect it would appeal more to a classic Lagavulin 16 drinker. Those looking for a medicinal peat bomb will likely be disappointed. But I kind of like it (possibly because I’m not a heavy peat fan, as you might have guessed).

The highest score I’ve seen for this expression comes from Josh the Whiskey Jug. Also very positive are Serge of Whisky Fun, My Annoying Opinions, Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky, and Thomas of Whisky Saga. A more average score comes from Nathan the Scotch Noob. The only really low score I’ve seen comes from Dave of Whisky Advocate.

Säntis Appenzeller Single Malt Edition Dreifaltigkeit

After a rather disappointing introduction to Säntis Appenzeller Malt through their base Edition Sigel, I was encouraged by the wine cask-finished Edition Himmelberg.

Next up – and last in my series of Santis expressions – is Edition Dreifaltigkeit. This is the whisky that Jim Murray named his “European Whisky of the Year” in 2010, with an incredibly high 96.5 score. But as I’ve explained in my review of his 2016 Whisky of the Year (Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye) there are some interesting inconsistencies in how he applies his scores at the high end.

Dreifaltigkeit means Trinity in German, and this whisky apparently gets its name from a local Swiss mountain peak. This whisky is supposedly “lightly peated,” but most would agree it packs a heavy smokey punch. Apparently, the malt is smoked in multiple ways – first wood-smoked in beech and oak woods, then re-smoked with local peat from the Appenzell Highmoor. I do like the attention to sourcing local materials with Santis.

Note that Edition Dreifaltigkeit appears to be the same as the earlier Santis Cask Strength Peated. These whiskies share the same description and cask strength (52% ABV), and some reviewers use a picture of the older name in their reviews of Dreifaltigkeit. As such, I have combined all the reviews for these two whiskies in the same category for my Meta-Critic database:

Säntis Alpstein (all editions): 8.59 ± 0.12 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Säntis Edition Sigel: 7.94 ± 0.86 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Säntis Edition Säntis: 7.57 ± 0.84 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Säntis Edition Dreifaltigkeit / Cask Strength Peated: 7.37 ± 1.67 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt: 8.59 ± 0.48 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)

Edition Dreifaltigkeit earns a dubious distinction in my Meta-Critic database – this is is more variable scoring whisky I’ve ever seen! The average standard deviation for all whiskies in my database is currently 0.37.  So the ± 1.67 here (based on 9 reviews) is pretty shocking.  These means that there is an extremely high level of disagreement among reviewers of this whisky. Not surprisingly, this also means the overall average score is low – indeed, in this case it is far below the database overall average of ~8.5.

Let’s see what I find in the glass.  Note again that I sampled this whisky before checking for reviews to add to my database, so I really had no expectations going in (other than the mixed experiences on Editions Sigel and Himmelberg). The 50 mL sample bottle cost ~$11 CAD in Zurich.

Colour: Much darker than even Himmelberg, with rich mahogany notes. Reminds me of some of the wine cask-aged tropical malts, like Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask or Amrut Portonova.

Nose: Oh dear Lord, no. Smokey, but in an extinguished cigarette sort of way, acrid. And very fishy! I could most kindly describe this as Teriyaki-glazed salmon – but only if you are trying to rescue a week-day old salmon fillet by drowning it in soy sauce. Dried nori and tobacco. Asian green tea (specifically, the slightly fishy-smelling kind you get in Japan, not China). The skunkiness from the Sigel is amplified here, with additional fresh glue notes – this is a simply horrible combination of smells. Frankly, I don’t want to put this in my mouth, it literally makes me feel like retching. Oh well, time to take one for the team I guess.

Palate: Very smokey, but not as acrid as the nose suggested (more wood smoke now instead of cigarette). Sweeter than I expected from the nose too, with brown sugar and a velvety chocolate note that is surprising. BBQ sauce. Tobacco, which is giving it a very bitter aftertaste on the way down. Not much alcohol burn for 52% ABV – you could easily drink this neat (if you were inclined to drink it at all). Not good, but not as bad as the nose indicated.

Finish: Too long. The fishiness returns, and lingers for a very long time (as bad fish is wont to do). Very smokey. Fortunately, the bitterness fades a bit with time, making this not a completely horrible experience – but still not a good one.  Now you’ll forgive while I go and brush my teeth and tongue …

This is a whisky you would be better off drinking with a clothespin over your nose.  There is really nothing to recommend it in terms of smell. Boxing coaches could use it instead of smelling salts. At least it is not as horrific in the mouth, with the predominant sweet wood smoke and BBQ notes (think mesquite).

With water, the nose is mercifully flattened a little, but it is still a unpleasant experience. Water brings up the sweetness in the mouth slightly.  You will want to try a bit of water – if you want to try this whisky at all.

I don’t know how to score this whisky. It is a new low for me, so I’m in uncharted territory here. I would have to give it below 6 on the common alcoholic beverage rating scale (i.e., every commercial whisky begins with default of 5, but anything below 6 should be avoided). Maybe high 5s, since there are some redeeming virtues on the palate, if you can get past that nose.

To say reviewers are divided on this one is an understatement. It gets the absolute lowest score for any whisky in my database from Thomas of Whisky Saga and three well-known Reddit reviewers (cake_my_day, TOModera and Shane_IL) – a view I personally share. It gets a slightly below average score from Serge of Whisky Fun. Dominic of Whisky Advocate has reviewed it twice (under each name) – one got a high score, and one a very low score. It gets a moderately positive review from Nathan the Scotch Noob. Two really positive reviews of this whisky are Jan of Best Shot Whisky and Jim Murray. Certainly a polarizing experience!

Säntis Appenzeller Single Malt Edition Himmelberg

After my inaugural experience with Säntis Malt Edition Sigel, I approached this next one with some trepidation.

Like with Edition Sigel, Edition Himmelberg received its primary aging in old oak beer casks. But it is a blend of whiskies that were subsequently finished in port, sherry, Merlot and other red wine casks, all blended together for this final bottling. It is bottled at a slightly higher strength than Edition Sigel (43% ABV here), and is non chill filtered and with no added colour.

Here’s hoping the extra wine cask finishing can help save the base beer cask aging.

Himmelberg is a region in Germany, and the name stems from the root Middle High German himel (“heaven”) and bërc (“hill”). Unfortunately, there aren’t enough reviews of Edition Himmelberg to make it into my Meta-Critic Database, but here are how the other Swiss malt whiskies compare.

Säntis Alpstein (all editions): 8.59 ± 0.12 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Säntis Edition Sigel: 7.94 ± 0.86 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Säntis Edition Säntis: 7.57 ± 0.84 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Säntis Edition Dreifaltigkeit / Cask Strength Peated: 7.37 ± 1.67 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt: 8.59 ± 0.48 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)

As mentioned in my Edition Sigel review, the Santis malt whiskies are not faring well in my database – with the possible exception of the various Alpstein expressions (although there are relatively few reviews here). Interestingly, each one of these Alpstein editions – and there have been at least 10 to date – were finished in a single type of wine or fortified wine cask. I’m somewhat hopeful that the blended wine cask finishing on Edition Himmelberg will thus produce a better result than the base Edition Sigel.

The 50 mL sample bottle cost ~$10 CAD in Zurich.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: Slightly darker than Sigel, suggesting the extra wine cask finishing.

Nose: Sweet nose, I’m definitely getting both classic sherry and port notes. Strong impression of sugar pie (i.e., baked brown sugar and cream), which is novel. Fresh pear and apple fruit, plus dried figs and raisins. Oranges. Rancio. Touch of cinnamon and baking spices – so, apple pie to join that sugar pie. A slightly off-putting underlying sour note (likely from the beer casks again), with a touch of glue. Still, a much better experience than the Edition Sigel malt – this has a lot more character, and is more substantial.

Palate: Same pear notes as the nose, with additional caramel sweetness adding to the creamy brown sugar. Vanilla and cinnamon. Tobacco. Lighter than expected, both in terms of flavour and texture – although there is some granularity to the mouthfeel, which I like. The 43% ABV is certainly helping here. Less tongue tingle than Sigel, despite the extra alcohol. Some sourness builds at the end unfortunately, but it is still ok.

Finish: Medium. That creamy brown sugar sweetness returns, with the lingering baked sugar pie experience (and baking spices too). A bit of dark chocolate, which is new. But there is also a persistent sourness on the finish, which detracts personally.

Definitely a much better experience than the Edition Sigel, which just seemed like an unbalanced mess to me. Adding water to Edition Himmelberg dampens the whole experience. This is unusual, as I find water usually accentuates the sweetness (not here). I recommend you sample it neat.

As you can tell from my description, I found this one to be fairly decent – although there is still something that doesn’t quite gel for me (i.e., that persistent sour note). So I would give it a score in the low 8s on the Meta-Critic scale (i.e., ~8.3), which is a bit below the overall malt whisky average. While not perfect, there are enough interesting notes here to make this one worth trying.

The only reviewer in my database who has also scored this whisky is Jim Murray. He gives it a very average score for all whiskies in the database (so on the Meta-Critic scale, ~8.5 equivalent). I will update the database and this review if I get a third reviewer.

 

Säntis Appenzeller Single Malt Edition Sigel

On my recent trip to Zurich, I brought back a number of sample bottles of Swiss single malt whiskies to try. First up is Santis Malt Edition Sigel.

Switzerland likely doesn’t leap out to you as a major whisky producer – and that’s because whisky production has only been legal in Switzerland since July 1999. So by definition, much of what they have produced is still quite young. Note that like Scotland, Swiss law requires that a distillate made from malt has to be aged for at least three years in wood barrels before it can be called whisky.

Like with many new malt whisky producers across the world, Appenzeller Säntis Malt (“Swiss Alpine Whisky”) is an offshoot of a brewery (Brauerei Locher). In my travels, I was impressed with the quality of two US malt whisky distilleries that grew out of craft breweries (Copperworks and Westland), and slightly less so with a Belgian one (Gouden Carolus). So I was naturally curious to try these Santis malts.

A signature feature of Santis is their use of old beer barrels for aging, imparting a distinctive character to their malt whisky. Santis has been distilling since 1999, and they are currently one of the largest malt whisky producers in Switzerland. Since 2003, the distillery reports using only locally-sourced barley, grown in Switzerland’s mountain areas. They have won a number of awards, and Jim Murray declared their Edition Dreifaltigkeit his “European Whisky of the Year” in 2010 (my review of that expression is coming soon).

There aren’t a lot of reviews of Swiss whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database, but here is what you will find right now:

Säntis Alpstein (all editions): 8.59 ± 0.12 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Säntis Edition Sigel: 7.93 ± 0.87 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Säntis Edition Säntis: 7.57 ± 0.84 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Säntis Edition Dreifaltigkeit / Cask Strength Peated: 7.37 ± 1.67 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt: 8.59 ± 0.48 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)

Here is how they compare to some other European malt whisky producers, outside of the UK. Note that most of these are fairly recent whisky producers as well.

Box The 2nd Step Collection 02 (Sweden): 8.91 ± 0.05 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The Festival 2014 (Sweden): 8.94 ± 0.14 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Gouden Carolus Single Malt (Belgium): 8.09 ± 0.17 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan) (Sweden): 8.65 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Brukswhisky (Sweden): 8.45 ± 0.60 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Midnattssol (Sweden): 8.14 ± 0.72 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Midvinter (Sweden): 8.55 ± 0.52 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Reserve Single Cask (Sweden): 9.01 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Millstone 8yo French Oak (Netherlands): 7.96 ± 0.65 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Millstone 12yo Sherry Cask (Netherlands): 8.95 ± 0.25 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Smögen Primör (Sweden): 8.51 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smögen Single Cask (Sweden): 8.91 ± 0.15 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus (Sweden): 8.61 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star (Sweden): 8.58 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

As a general rule, the Santis malt whiskies are not faring well in this comparison. With the exception of the various premium wine cask-finished Alpstein expressions, the standard Santis expressions are getting relatively low average scores in my Meta-Critic Database, and higher than typical variance across reviewers.

Note that I had not included Santis in my database prior to sampling their whiskies, so I truly tasted these “blind.”

I have started this series of reviews with the Santis Edition Sigel, which is one of the base expressions available from this distiller. Sigel means “Sun” in old German, and is the likely root of the modern siegel (for seal). Edition Sigel is exclusively “matured in small oak beer casks” (with no finishing) and is bottled at 40% ABV. The 50 mL sample bottle from Zurich cost me ~$8.50 CAD.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: Light gold, but with a slightly brownish tint (reminding me of beer, naturally enough).

Nose: Light nose, no alcohol burn. Sweet and somewhat fruity, with red (stawberrry) licorice and candy apples – indeed, candied is the best descriptor. Some citrus. Oak with a bit of wood spice, maybe some anise. Tobacco. Almost earthy in a way – but seems oddly faint, almost as if watered-down. There is a strange effect of the beer cask aging, adding a slightly skunky note (like beer that has long since passed its expiration date, or where the bottle seal has failed). Certainly unique, it doesn’t quite seem like a malt whisky.

Palate: Not as fruity as the nose suggested – some pear, with a bit of red licorice. Tobacco. Very sour though. Motor oil? Seems very young, and oddly synthetic tasting.  Makes wonder if this is what “Synthehol” on Star Trek – The Next Generation would taste like. Some tongue tingle. That skunkiness from the nose comes back with a vengeance as you swallow – making you wish you hadn’t! This is frankly a bit of a mess, with some definite off-putting notes.

Finish: Short (fortunately). A strong Aspartame-like artificial note, mixed with pear and sour apple. Makes me want to rinse my mouth out with a better whisky immediately (which is exactly what I did, when I was done with this tasting).

I’ll be honest here – I couldn’t finish my standard 1.5 ounce pour of this one. I came back to the rest of the sample bottle a couple of nights later, to see if I had misjudged it. Nope, it was just as bad. And if anything, the nose was even weaker now (which was the best part of this whisky originally, if you could call it that). I’m sorry, but my advice to Santis on this one would be to re-distill it and age it longer, please. Also skip the beer casks, if that is what is producing the unique skunky notes.

Interestingly, I got a very similar candied nose on the Gouden Carolus malt – making me think this is also a consequence of the beer mash or beer cask aging. But that whisky lacked the off-notes present here, so I felt the Meta-Critic average score was justified. In contrast, I wouldn’t score Edition Sigel above the low 7s – putting this whisky in my bottom 5th percentile.

For additional reviews, Jim Murray and Patrick and RV of Quebec Whisky all give it an average score for their respective reviewing ranges. Andre of Quebec Whisky and Dominic of Whisky Advocate give it relatively low scores. The Reddit user cake_my_day gives it one of his lowest scores ever.

 

 

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Edition

I recently reviewed the Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Distillery Edition, which features the standard Glenfiddich “house style” (i.e., like the standard 12 and 18 year-olds). But the Distillery Edition is not widely available – in most jurisdictions, the Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Edition fills this niche instead. This is interesting, as the profile of the Solera Edition is quite distinct.

Glenfiddich uses a modified version of the classic solera system used by sherry makers, which was designed to ensure consistency in sherry. I am not an expert on the process, but the way it works in this case (put simply) is that whiskies are mixed in a giant solera vat. This vat contains whisky from previous batches, and is never emptied completely – as batches are drawn from the vat, more whisky is poured in. The profile of whiskies going into the vat is different from other Glenfiddichs, and includes sherry casks, ex-bourbon casks, and ex-bourbon hybrids casks (ones transferred into new oak cask for some period of time). Presumably, the use of the solera system helps “even out” the profile of the resulting final vattings, ensuring some similarity from batch to batch.

Sold for $80 CAD at the LCBO, the 15 Year Old Solera Edition is less expensive than the Distillery Edition ($95 CAD). It is also bottled at the minimum industry standard of 40% ABV, like the standard 12 and 18 year-olds (the Distillery Edition is a much higher 51% ABV).

Here is how the 15 Year Old Solera Edition compares to other whiskies in my Metacritic database, starting with other Glenfiddichs:

Glenfiddich 1963 Original Malt: 8.27 ± 0.47 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich Malt Master’s Edition: 8.30 ± 0.30 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.11 ± 0.24 on 24 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 14yo Bourbon Barrel Reserve: 8.44 ± 0.17 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 14yo Rich Oak: 8.60 ± 0.32 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 15yo Distillery Edition: 8.71 ± 0.30 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 15yo Solera: 8.60 ± 0.25 on 24 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 18yo: 8.59 ± 0.37 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)

While not as highly ranked as the Distillery Edition, the 15 yo Solera Edition gets a similar overall score to the much more expensive Glenfiddich 18 yo (which is nearly twice the price here in Ontario).  Here’s how it compares to other whiskies in its age group:

Caol Ila 15yo Unpeated: 8.54 ± 0.41 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Dalmore 15yo: 8.33 ± 0.50 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.69 ± 0.34 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Glencadam 15yo: 8.45 ± 0.41 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 15yo Revival: 8.91 ± 0.28 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfarclas 15yo: 8.67 ± 0.29 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Glengoyne 15yo: 8.48 ± 0.53 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Glenlivet 15yo French Oak: 8.38 ± 0.25 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Tobermory 15yo: 8.54 ± 0.33 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)

The Solera Edition scores pretty well in the middle of the pack for this group.

I recently got to sample this one in a bar. Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet sherried nose, with the typical sherry dark fruits (raisins, sultanas and figs) and a bit of citrus (lemon in particular). Lots of honey and vanilla, plus some caramel. A bit malty. No real off notes – a nice malt, more sherried than I expected.

Palate: Sweetness continues, with a few lighter fruits adding to the classic sherry notes above. Caramel/vanilla turn more into fudge now, plus some icing sugar. A bit of baking spice comes in (nutmeg), but not much. Mouthfeel is a bit watery for my tastes, in keeping with the 40% ABV.

Glenfiddich.15.SoleraFinish: Medium-short. Light fruit syrup is the main characteristic, with some bitterness coming in over time. Overall balance good, but a bit short.

I think the overall Metacritic score for this one is quite reasonable – I would peg it at about an average level of quality (which is currently somewhere around ~8.5-8.6 in my database). That said, I personally don’t think the Distillery Edition deserves much of a higher ranking – and I would put the 18 yo slightly above both of these 15 year-olds. As an aside, it’s a shame they don’t also bottle this one at a higher ABV, like the Distillery edition.

Among my Metacritic reviewers, Jim Murray, Savannah of the Whiskey Wash and Chip the Rumhowler are all very positive. Jan of Best Shot Whisky and Jason of In Search of Elegance are also fairly positive, all giving this expression an above average score. I’m more in line with the average scores by Nathan the Scotch Noob, Dave of Whisky Advocate, Josh of the Whiskey Jug, and the guys at Quebec Whisky. The lowest score I’ve seen comes from Ruben of Whisky Notes.

Singleton of Dufftown 12 Year Old

While Singleton is not exactly a house-hold name, that may be changing. Owned by the large multinational drinks conglomerate Diageo (of Johnnie Walker fame), the Singleton brand is their attempt to do for single malts what they have long done for blends – raise brand awareness centered on an extended family.

While Diageo may be a top player in the single malt world, this isn’t immediately obvious to most casual drinkers since they don’t own the common entry-level malts (like Glenlivet and Glenfiddich), or the really big recognizable names (like Macallan). Instead, Diageo dominates by sheer volume across a range of price points. Singeton is their attempt to double-down on the entry-level, with a series of very well priced offerings.

Focusing on the Speyside region of Scotland, Diageo is currently highlighting three of their distilleries through this shared Singleton brand – Dufftown, Glen Ord and Glendullan. Rather than finding their output poured into the Diageo blending empire (as was presumably the case previously), these distilleries are now going head-to-head through the common Singleton label with the ubiquitous Glenlivets and Glenfiddichs.

Refreshingly, the main Singleton expressions all carry age statements (12, 15 and 18 years of age), and are all meant to showcase the classic Speyside “gentle” character (i.e., no fancy finishes or unusual cask blending). They are also all very reasonably priced for their ages.

To expand the market, Diageo has also released a number of no age statement (NAS) expressions for each distillery, many intended to attract a younger audience for mixed drinks (these are are similarly budget priced along with the 12 yo version). There are also a number of NAS duty-free retail expressions for the more well-healed traveler. Here is where you are more likely to find the wine cask finishes and the like – many of these are more expensive than the standard age range expressions, but still reasonably priced for their respective styles.

Let’s see how the various Singletons compare in my Metacritic Database, relative to their main competitors (note that not all the new expressions have enough reviews to be included in the public database yet).

Singleton of Dufftown 12yo: 7.93 ± 0.43 on 9 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Dufftown 15yo: 8.33 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Singleton of Dufftown 18yo: 8.41 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Singleton of Dufftown Spey Cascade: 7.53 ± 0.53 on 3 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Dufftown Tailfire: 8.17 ± 0.46 on 3 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Dufftown Unité: 8.13 ± 0.27 on 4 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Glen Ord 12yo: 8.31 ± 0.25 on 6 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Glen Ord 15yo: 8.46 ± 0.41 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Singleton of Glen Ord 18yo: 8.39 ± 0.26 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Singleton of Glen Ord Signature: 7.92 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Singleton of Glendullan 12yo: 8.04 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($$)

AnCnoc 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.29 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan American Oak: 7.59 ± 0.89 on 7 reviews ($$)
Auchentoshan Three Wood: 8.26 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Balvenie 12yo Doublewood: 8.41 ± 0.34 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 12yo Original: 8.59 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.10 ± 0.24 on 24 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 14yo Rich Oak: 8.60 ± 0.32 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 15yo Distillery Edition: 8.70 ± 0.30 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 15yo Solera: 8.59 ± 0.25 on 24 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 18yo: 8.59 ± 0.37 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenlivet 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.30 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet 15yo French Oak: 8.38 ± 0.25 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Glenlivet 18yo: 8.61 ± 0.21 on 21 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve: 7.94 ± 0.44 on 12 reviews ($$)
Glenmorangie 10yo: 8.48 ± 0.45 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Glenmorangie Lasanta: 8.40 ± 0.36 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or: 8.76 ± 0.28 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban: 8.57 ± 0.48 on 21 reviews ($$$)

Those are a lot of numbers, but the general point is that the age-statement Singletons (broadly speaking) are getting similar or slightly lower reviewer scores compared to the more established brands. The budget-priced NAS Singleton offerings typically score lower than the base 12 yo age expression, consistent with the pattern for the more established brands.

I’ve started to see the entry-level age statement Singletons show up more often lately, in places where whisky is not a specialty. Case in point, I ran across this Singleton of Dufftown 12 Year Old in an Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge during my travels. Normally all these lounges carry is an entry-level Glenlivet malt (12 or Founder’s Reserve, depending on local availability), Johnnie Walker Black, and Crown Royal – so this was an unexpected opportunity to finally give Singleton a shot.  It is bottled at 40% ABV, like much of the competition.

And now for what I find in the glass:

Nose: Light apple juice, with a bit of honey and vanilla, plus some caramel. Not much fruit (dried fruit, what little there is). Some light hay and grass notes. A bit of acetone comes up at the end, unfortunately. Pretty standard stuff.

Palate: Honey sweetness starts off, followed by an extreme caramel gooey-ness (this is almost like the inside of a Caramilk bar). Golden raisins join the light pear and apple fruits. Some light cinnamon. Not much else here. Grass still present, and maybe a slight nuttiness. Absolutely no burn, seems very light (even for 40% ABV).  A bit of citrus emerges eventually.

Finish‎: Medium length. Caramel creamy. Some fruit lingers, with a hint of wood spice. Slightly artificial sweetener aftertaste, unfortunately. Very mild and unoffensive (also rather forgettable).

This is a very inoffensive dram – it just isn’t very interesting. The Singleton of Dufftown 12 year old is probably a good option for those looking for something a little sweeter than the other entry level malts. Personally, I’ll be sticking with JW Black or Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve in the Maple Leaf lounge.

The most positive review I’ve seen for this whisky comes Oliver of Dramming. Personally, I fall more in line with the guys at Quebec Whisky and Serge of Whisky Fun.  The most scathing review I’ve seen comes from Jim Murray – he’s definitely not a fan. Overall, I think the price reflects the value here.

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