Nov 222017

Here we are at the beginning of the holiday shopping season again, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday so gift buying is about to kick into high gear! Should we perhaps institute Whisky Wednesday for crazy sales on amber joy? I’ll start with this post!

I’ll give you my top 12 bottles that would make a great holiday gift. Obviously, they are all bottles I’ve tasted, and many of them adorn my own whisky cabinet.

I’ve put stars next to recommendations from last year that made the list again. I guess you could call them my house favorites by now ūüôā


The rules? Easy:

  1. It has to be mass produced and widely available
  2. It has to be a bottle I’d be happy to get (hey, it’s my list….)
  3. It can be a limited edition if it fulfills conditions 1+2

Note that bottles are listed in a completely random order!

Category I – Up to¬†¬£50 (Also ‚ā¨50-60 or $70)

1. Springbank 10*

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Springbank is Capmpeltown’s primary distillery, with every single aspect of the operation done manually, as it was done 100 years ago. The distillery employs some 70 staff, and takes pride in being a source of employment and contribution to the community.

This expression is a mixture of whisky matured in both bourbon and sherry casks, is mildly peated and is presented at 46% ABV in its natural color with no chill filtration. Simply great whisky!

Small tip: The Kilkerran 12 will do just as well with a nice bow around the tube¬† ūüôā







2. Big Peat Christmas Edition 2017*

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I have a small disclaimer here: during 2017 I was appointed to serve as Douglas Laing’s brand ambassador in Israel. Having disclosed that, I will still go on to recommend Big Peat Christmas Edition, as it made the list for the past two years, and did not become any less of a great gift because of my appointment.

This is a fun expression, that will leave your loved one ashy mouthed and smiling ūüôā





3. Bunnahabhain 12*

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The Bunnahabhain 12 is definitely one of my all time favorite entry level whiskies, and serves as my go-to dram at home. You can probably expect this dram on next year’s list as well ūüėČ

In conclusion of my review on this whisky, I wrote: “This is, to me, one of those bottles you can always go back to. Complex and layered, it‚Äôs not really a beginner‚Äôs dram, but one that will hold your interest regardless of how advanced you are in your whisky journey. It‚Äôs also a whisky that delivers one of the better value for money deals out there.”






4.¬†Aberlour A’bunadh*

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Now up to batch 60 (released just this week), this young but yummy cask strength whisky aged in first fill Oloroso sherry casks is a favorite.

Each batch has a different ABV, and is non chill filtered and is non colored. Any of the batches is a good choice, and while there are some variations, they’re pretty small.





5. Benromach 10 Year Old 100 Proof*

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To me this is the highlight of the Benromach core range.

The sherry is rubust and vibrant on the nose, the peat owns the palate and the spice dominates the finish. It’s like each of the elements owns a part of the dram, and the higher ABV takes a great dram and elevates it to a whole new level.

Powerful stuff!








6. Port Charlotte Scottish Barley

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Islay’s other 1881 distillery (with Bunnahabhain) makes unpeated whisky under the Bruichladdich label, and heavily peated whisky under the Port Charlotte label (and, of course super peated whisky under the Octomore label).

I’m especially fond of the Port Charlotte, as peat works quite well for Bruichladdich, and the whisky lacks that signature lactic notes the unpeated whisky has.

If your recipient is a peathead, this is the whisky to get them…




Category II – ¬£50-¬£125 (Also ‚ā¨115 or $130)

7. Balblair 1990 (2nd Release)

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Balblair’s somewhat weird labeling system uses vintages rather than age statements. On its own, that wouldn’t be that weird, only that they release different batches of the same vintage without saying anything but bottling year. Thus, you’ll have identical Balblair 1990 that are 24 and 26 years old, which you’ll know only if you look at the label.

Either way, this is a lovely to express your love…








8. Balvenie Peat Week 2002

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This is Balvenie’s first foray into real peated whisky (I’m discounting their use of peated casks in some older 17 year old expressions as a finish). Since 2002 (but not in 2007, for some reason), Balvenie spends one week each year distilling their home malted peated malt.

What’s it like? Well, for starters, it’s really nothing like Islay peat. The Highland peat is heathery and non maritime, and has none of the medicinal qualities you’d expect from an Islay malt.

In fact, it will remind you of the Glen Garioch of old, when the distillery still used its own malt, way back before 1993. I’ll just say that those who know this blog, know exactly what the last sentence means in terms of a recommendation…..



9. Glenfarclas 21*

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The Glenfarclas 21 is a great value, and is definitely my favorite of the range (even more than the higher ups, barring perhaps the 40 year old).

This staunchly independent distillery is exteremely traditional in its approach to whisky making. On one hand, that creates a very consistent line of whiskys. On the other hand, most will find the one expression they favor and stick with it, as the variation between the expressions is relatively limited and¬†they don’t¬†‚Äúdo‚ÄĚ finishes. This is mine…









Category III –¬†Going All Out (Over ¬£100)

10. Diageo Collectivum XXVIII

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This is the first blended malt (“vatted malt” of old) in the Diageo Special Releases, and has been blended by a very deft hand. It’s not only special, it’s really good too, and while being NAS, it gives the impression that thought was given to the final product, presented at 57.3%.

This bottle includes malt from each of the 28 working Diageo distilleries (hence the XXVIII): Auchroisk, Benrinnes, Blair Athol, Caol Ila, Cardhu, Clynelish, Cragganmore, Dailuaine, Dalwhinnie, Dufftown, Glendullan, Glen Elgin, Glenkinchie, Glenlossie, Glen Ord, Glen Spey, Inchgower, Knockando, Lagavulin, Linkwood, Mannochmore, Mortlach, Oban, Roseisle, Royal Lochnagar, Strathmill, Talisker and Teaninich.







11. Glengoyne 25*

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If your Christmas gift budget includes bottles in this price range, this bottle is sure to get your intended recipient excited.

One of my alltime favorite sherry bombs, this whisky is well made and is truly a majestic dram, sitting right on the border between a sherry bomb and the old dusty sherry style.










12. Kavalan Solist Amontillado

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Taiwan has become quite the whisky powerhouse, with Kavalan gaining more and more appreciation and recognition from single malt aficionados the world over. The Solist line – which is the distillery’s cask strength offerings – has included a bourbon, sherry, vihno and fino lineup for a long time.

The sherry is a classic sherry bomb and the bourbon is one of the best specimens in the market for a clean bourbon matured whisky, while the fino was at the top of the range price wise.

Last year, Kavalan also released editions matured in other sherry casks, namely Pedro Ximenez, Amontillado, Manzanilla sherry as well as Moscatel and rum.¬† Having tasted all those, I can tell you that I’d love to have a Kavalan Amontillado under my tree (or menorah).





As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this selection in the comments!



Mar 122017

Diageo’s Speyside workhorse, this distillery is one that produces mainly for blends. Anybody who’s had a Johnnie Walker, has had Benrinnes whisky.

Benrinnes is a special distillery even today, despite cutting out the partial triple distillation in the style of Mortlach and Springbank, as it still uses worm tub condensers (alongside several other Diageo distilleries like Talisker, Oban, Cragganmore, Glenkinchie, Dalwhinnie, and Glen Elgin, as well as ONE of Springbank’s three stills), with water that’s kept particularly cold. Another feature is clear wort, which then goes into a relatively long fermentation (at least 60 hours) in wooden washbacks.

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The partial triple distillation is evident in the distillery setup, as it has two sets of one large wash still (20,000 liter capacity) and two spirit stills (5,500 liter). Nowadays, the wash still run is simply divided and then charged into the two spirit stills, for a traditional double distillation, very much like Glengoyne works with their three stills.

This is part of a ten single cask release by Specialty Drinks’ Single Malts of Scotland brand. This release includes two 1988 casks , from Bunnahabhain and Tormore, a¬†Glenrothes 1989, two Ledaigs (11 year old sherry butt, an older sister¬†to a bottle I picked up at the 2015 Whisky Show, and 12 year old bourbon hogshead), and five¬†more expressions ranging from a 1992 Bruichladdich to a 2007 Glen Moray. I’ll be reviewing these releases over the next few weeks. I chose to start with the Benrinnes as the least seen of these distilleries, although the Glenburgie and Miltonduff don’t lag too far behind on this criterion.

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Benrinnes 20 Year Old 1995, Hogshead #9057 РSingle Malts of Scotland (51.1% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Amber, droplets come off the necklace very slowly and in thin, long lasting legs.

Nose:  Perfume-y and floral notes of carnations, with honey and a somewhat dusty dryness. Fresh hay and some freshly ground peppercorns round it out. Some time in the glass strengthens the honey

Palate: Sweet and honeyed, with pepper and fresh orange juice and a hint of fresh pear.

Linger: Spicy and sweet, with a very long lingering dryness. The spice remains on the roof of the mouth for a long time, and has a fun tingle.


This is a great selection of a cask, with quite a bit to explore, although at 51.5% ABV, I’m a little loath to add water.

Jul 062015

I think Benrinnes is one of the distilleries with the largest number of unaware drinkers in the world. You get some Benrinnes in every bottle of Johnny Walker, thus¬†by exension, it has a huge number of drinkers. Yet, I’m not sure that every malthead had the opportunity to have a Benrinnes single malt, as the bottlings are relatively few and far between.

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Named for a nearby mountain, Benrinnes was owned by John Dewar and Sons, and came into the United Distillers portfolio with them, but was not sold on to Bacardi by Diageo. The distillery was separated from other Speyside distilleries by its process. Until 2007, Benrinnes was partially triple distilled.

There have only been five official bottlings of Benrinnes by UD/Diageo. The only regular bottling was a 15 year old Flora and Fauna in 1991, and there have been several Special Releases, including one Rare Malt Selection in 1996 and a 23 year old and a 21 year old Special Releases in 2009 and 2014 respectively.

This is an independent bottling of a 26 year old single cask Benrinnes by The Bottlers. This is a stunning refill sherry butt at cask strength which will tickle and old sherry loves’s fancy.

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Benrinnes 1982, 26 Year Old by The Bottlers, Refill Sherry Butt #3229 (57.4% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Dark Mahogany, slow and thin legs.

Nose: Deepest sherry and oak. High alcohol on nose. This dram really needs water. Notes of a dusty spice store, old leather, tobacco, a lot of oak on the nose, light notes of furniture polish. Water tones down the polish and brings out the classic old sherry, tobacco leaf. Harsh without water and a true stunner with it.

Palate: Very powerful oak to the point of overpowering the malt without water. A lot of old sherry, concentrated dried fruit, spicy with pepper and ground cinnamon with a lot of tannins and tobacco. Satisfyingly mouth drying!

Linger: Long overall with sweet and oaky notes with some polish and mild spice in the gullet. Dried fruit concentrate, sweet on the cusp of woody with some metallic note.


Fabulous dram. Water is your friend here! I think this might have been even more of a stunner given slightly less time in the cask, but we’re splitting hairs here. This is an absolute stunner, and if you come across it, pick up a bottle.

Yet another stunner from Ishai!!! Thanks, man!

Sep 162014

The long anticipated 2014 Diageo releases has arrived, and I sadly stand vindicated.

Just a few months ago I wrote a piece on the absurdity of Diageo’s¬†Port Ellen pricing policy, claiming that whisky suppliers are as guilty as collectors for creating the bubble in whisky prices by setting prices that make the whisky so prohibitively expensive that the only plausible thing to do with a bottle that cost so much is to treat it as an heirloom. I’ve made my views known on¬†the pricing policy of Port Ellen (and Brora, by implication), and yet gasped in horror seeing yesterday’s announcement of Diageo’s¬†2014 Special Releases.

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But my gasp of horror was not at the prices of the Port Ellen 14th release (£2200) or of the Brora 35 (£1200) as [luckily??] neither have even doubled. Rather, at some of the other crazy pricing announced, including a (technically 16 year old) NAS Clynelish for £500, a Singleton of Glendullan 38 for £750 and a 21 year old Benrinnes from 1992 for £240. I do have to mention that both the Lagavulin 12 and the Caol Ila Unpeated 1998 have remained at or under £80.

I realize that the ¬£240 Benrinnes may seem utterly reasonable compared to the ¬£2200 ask price for the Port Ellen, but do remember that a mere three¬†years ago, in October 2011, you would¬†have paid ¬£300 for the 11th release of Port Ellen. I’ve updated the release price infographic to reflect the 14th release.

© Michael Bendavid, 2014

© Michael Bendavid, 2014

It’s like we fell through a rabbit hole into a whisky wonderland someone just forgot what normal pricing for whisky is. As the Mock Turtle says in Alice in Wonderland ‚ÄúWell, I never heard it before, but it sounds uncommon nonsense.‚ÄĚ

Now, I’m not this silly romantic who looks back at prices of yesteryear (or last year, for that matter) thinking they won’t change. The global market for whisky has changed, as well as the use made of whisky as an investment to beat the market and the demand is bound to be reflected in pricing. Also, every market has its quirky outliers who command absolutely silly money (our Port Ellen and Karuizawa), and it’s just the way it is.

I mean, Clynelish 14 is ¬£33, and the 1993 Distiller’s Edition is ¬£61. A rare Duncan Taylor 25 year old single cask¬†that produced only 92 bottles sells for ¬£271. Where does Diageo come off pricing an outrun of five vintages (essentially a Clynelish 16) producing almost 3000 bottles at ¬£500? This is done in the hopes of making you¬†look at bottle of the 14 for anything under ¬£50 as the find of a lifetime after this.

Why do I feel vindicated? One of the comments I got on the original Port Ellen piece (it was on Facebook, and I didn’t take a note of who wrote it and I do apologize for it) said that in the pricing of Port Ellen, Diageo was simply rectifying a market failure where they sold the whisky for ¬£300 and speculators bought bottles and sold them at auction the following day for double that. He’d rather see the money go to the people who actually produced the whisky, rather than to the speculators who added no value of their own. Honestly, I can’t argue with that, which is why I checked current Ebay prices for the 13th release, and found them to be just shy of ¬£2000. Thus, I view the Port Ellen pricing as an outlier in the industry and am not contesting Diageo’s pricing strategy for it (or for the Brora), although I assume prices would have never climbed this high in auction had Diageo not decided to push the speculators out of the market. Thus, the only ones who still stand to make money on the Port Ellens (other than Diageo, of course), are those who bought a bottle pre-2013 and eventually sell it at auction (probably for ¬£700-1000, unless you have an unopened 1st release).

But the Strathmill, Rosebank, Cragganmore, Glendullan, Benrinnes and Clynelish pricing – I’m sorry, I just don’t get it.

No, I shouldn’t say that, I do get it actually and here’s where the deadly sins come in. Greed and pride on Diageo’s side – trying to force¬†the “regular” brands more and more into the “Super Premium” category, stoking lust and envy in the collectors/speculators for profit. Now a¬†healthy measure of the deadly sins¬†induce innovation and creativity. Overdoses of it are¬†deadly. I fear that line may have been crossed and Diageo has partnered with the collector/speculator faction to artificially stoke the fires of absolute crazy.

The beauty of all this is, of course, is that the whisky market is just like any other investment market, where two truths abide: Bubbles burst, and pigs get slaughtered.