Sep 122018

The second dram in this new Elements of Islay release is a 2008 Caol Ila, at either nine or ten years of age.

Like the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone, Caol Ila is smoky’s old faithful. It will rarely blow you away, but you pretty much know what you can expect.

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In CI11, Islay’s workhorse delivers what it promises, albeit a little reluctantly on the nose. The Palate, however, is a whole other story, and this expression fully delivers!


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Elements of Islay CI11 – Caol Ila 2008, 1206 Bottles (55.4% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold, coats the glass and comes down in very small droplets.

Nose: Peat and brine, light pepper and some red apple, with hints of honey in the background and a touch of pine resin. The nose is a bit closed, and water does not seem to coax much more out of it other than sweetening it.

Palate: Thick and coating, with peat and white raisins. There’s pepper and some citrus rind. This is pretty intense on the palate and while on it, the nose gets some orange blossom.

Linger: Smoke and sweetness, with white pepper on the tongue. Dry and slightly bitter, with the bitterness and spice remaining for a long time. There’s also a slight hint of ashiness.


For a peated dram, Caol Ila is almost never a bad choice. This expression needs time in the glass, and even then is reluctant on the nose, but the palate more than makes up for it.

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!



Oct 022016

Facebook is full of secret whisky associations, and the most secretive of those, with only¬†104 of the most discerning whisky nuts, is the WFFA. While I can’t say any more about the group, since one can’t ask to join it, and as two of the three rules the group has were taken out of¬†Chuck Palahniuk’s book, and I’m already toeing the line there: “The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club”. The third rule relates to Fridays and is not important. I will say that there are some serious hitters on there, and people from all walks of life. These are people who own quite a few bottles, belong to whisky clubs, trade samples with each other, and meet at whisky events.

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We hear many pundits talk about “best whisky” or “best distillery”, but what do real, serious, maltheads think about the distilleries? Who actually has the hearts of the hard core maltheads?

I can actually answer that, as one of the group’s highlights is the annual “Best Distillery” vote. Each member sends in their top five distilleries, and 30 points are distributed per member. About two thirds of the membership voted (67 out of 104), and the votes were spread over 56 distilleries. The survey was run by our admin, John McDougall. A distillery will score points according to rank among members. Thus, each member assigns 30 points, spread as follows:¬†10 for the first place vote, 8 for your second, 6 for the third, 4 points for the forth¬†and 2 points are assigned to your fifth place vote.

While Springbank ran away with the vote (it won first place last year too, but this year seems to have gathered many more first place points –¬†21 first place votes, while fourth¬†place Bruichladdich was next with¬†seven first place votes), the top of the list is very similar to last year’s with the top six distilleries remaining the same. To me, this confirms the status of these six distilleries as favorite malthead distilleries, all of whom got over 100 points, and all of whom kept their places in the top six for the second year:¬†Springbank, GlenDronach, Ardbeg,¬†Bruichladdich, Lagavulin and¬†Kilchoman.

What can be learned from these results? A few things

  1. Maltheads like boldly flavored whisky (GlenDronach is the only non peated distillery in the six, and they have bold sherry casks galore).
  2. No core range presented at 40% and chill filtered made the top of the list. Not even close. In fact, the first one we meet is Laphroaig, at number 10, with one such expression.
  3. Maltheads appreciate tradition, but also respond to personal marketing (and being part of a “Committee” will gather commitment).
  4. Even serious groups have buffoons¬†(one voted for Jura, Glenfiddich, Loch Lomond and Fetttircairn, with no fifth distillery given). So if you wondered, as I did, how Jura got into 22nd place, there’s your answer).
  5. Mild distillery character is a disadvantage with maltheads.
  6. Non Scotch whisky is noticed, but not in a significant enough way (this is true for both American and East Asian whisky). Could this be the primarily European composition of the group? Could be. I’d love to see what results an identical survey would bring in Malt Maniacs and Friends, Facebook’s primary whisky group.

So with no further ado, I’ll give you the full list, next to each distillery you’ll find the total number of points, as well as the total number of members that voted for it. It’s interesting to note that had there not been a weighted system to the voting, the top six would have remained the same, and Bunnahabhain would have come in at seventh place.

WFFA Member's Choice Award

WFFA Member’s Choice Award


Top 20 Places in the 2016 WFFA Favorite Distillery Poll

  1. Springbank 376 points (48 votes)
  2. Glendronach 178 points (28 votes)
  3. Ardbeg 148 points (23 votes)
  4. Bruichladdich 144 points (23 votes)
  5. Lagavulin 142 points (21 votes)
  6.  Kilchoman 108 points (19 votes)
  7. Kilkerran 76 points (11 votes)
  8. Arran 68 points (9 votes)
  9. Bunnahabhain 62 points (13 votes)
  10. Laphroaig 60 points (10 votes)
  11. Clynelish 54 points (7 votes)
  12. Caol Ila 48 points (10 votes)
  13. Benromach 38 points (8 votes)
    Highland Park 38 points (9 votes)
  14. Glenfarclas 34 points (7 votes)
  15. Aberlour 30 points (6 votes)
    Buffalo Trace 30 points (5 votes)
  16. Yoichi 26 points (5 votes)
  17. Kavalan 22 points (3 votes)
  18. Mackmyra 18 points (5 votes)
    Yamazaki 18 points (3 votes)
  19. BenRiach 16 points (2 votes)
    Jura* 16 points (2 votes, including buffoon vote)
  20. Balblair 14 points (3 votes)
    Balvenie 14 points (4 votes)
    Tobermory 14 points (3 votes)

Concluding Thoughts

What does this vote mean? Nothing. Just like any other award, prize, medal or honorable mention.
What it can tell us, though, is what the core of maltheads seek, which can serve as a guide to anybody looking to market to (or produce for) this segment of the market.

It also shows that there are still some gems of distilleries out there that even hardened maltheads don’t think of when they talk about their favorite distilleries, secrets perhaps best left untold ūüėČ

Aug 112016

This is another of The Whisky Exchange’s exclusives, bottled by Signatory Vintage, from their pretty extensive selection of casks. ¬†This one was bottled at 46%, and I think it was done to bring down some of the spicy heat this cask packed. It’s rather balanced, and peatheads will enjoy it very much.

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Caol Ila is unique in that some 30% of its production is unpeated. Sure, some smaller distilleries do that too (Tobermory, Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich, come to mind), but in terms of sheer capacity, at 6.5 million liters of alcohol per annum, Caol Ila is two and a half times¬†as large as Bunnahabhain (2.7m/y), more than quadruple the size of Bruichladdich (1.5m/y) and has 6.5 times the capacity of Tobermory (1m/y). What is curious is the fact that Diageo has plenty of distilleries producing unpeated whisky, so one does wonder why so much of Caol Ila’s capacity would be pointed at unpeated production. Of course, the real benefit of Caol Ila’s size is the fact that there is an abundance of casks out there with independent bottlers.


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Signatory Vintage Caol Ila 2007 for The Whisky Exchange, 8 Years Old, Cask 315325, Distilled 25.9.2007, Bottled 3.5.2016, Yield 320 Bottles (46% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Straw colored, thin legs peeling off a pretty sturdy necklace.

Nose: Classic Caol Ila nose with a gentle whiff of new make with brine, pickles in salt, earthy peat, and some honey that was melted in hot water round out the nose. With a drop of water, you can get even more of the spirit with a somewhat fresher nose.

Palate: Smoke and pepper with a hint of dried lemon rind. The smoke is rather dry and follows that initial hit spice on the tongue. A drop of water strengthens the peat while toning down the spice just a bit.

Linger: peat in pepper on the tongue, with a powdery dryness on the palate and on the inner cheeks. Some spice at the top of the gullet joined a bit later like to white pepper on the tongue.


A young expression with a nice kick of spice to it. It’s pretty balanced and was a good choice of a cask. The cask yielded 320¬†bottles and you can still get a bottle for ¬£56. If you opt for it, this bottle will put a smile on any peat lover’s face.


Oct 282015

Compass Box’s fifth incarnation of the Flaming Heart is out, in conjunction with the 15th anniversary of the company. One of the really nice things about Compass Box is that quality is king. Expressions will be discontinued if the right whisky can’t be sourced, as is clearly evidenced by the company’s list of limited releases over the years, often citing sourcing challenges as the reasons for discontinuation of expressions (see here). Flaming Heart, however, is a blend of really old and some really young Highland and Islay malts, the idea of which is to marry younger malt finished in Compass Box’s signature French oak hybrid with a body of Islay (Caol Ila) and Highland (Clynelish) malts, to create a complex whisky. The formula of the fifth release is¬†fully disclosed:

Compass Box Whisky

Compass Box Whisky


Caol Ila makes up 65.6% of the blend (27.1% from 30 year old refill hogsheads and 38.5% from 14 year old refill hogsheads), 24.1% Clynelish aged 20 years, and 10.3% of the highly active new French oak hybrid barrels which aged a blend of five year young Highland whisky from Clynelish, Dailuaine and Teanninch for another two years.

This whisky is far more traditional, and far peatier than ‘This is Not a Luxury Whisky’, released with it to commemorate the 15th anniversary.

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Compass Box Flaming Heart, 15th Anniversary Edition, 12,060 bottles (48.9% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Amber, legs form rather quickly with thick droplets and a lot of residue on the glass.

Nose: The Caol Ila is definitely in control of this blend. Indeed, Islay is here with salty peat as the dominant aroma on the nose¬†but the¬†wood spice is right there with a hint of waxiness. There’s a sweetness (honey?), with some fruity notes. The peat is really interesting, salty but not overly maritime. A drop of water brings out honey and touches of vanilla with more wax.

Palate: Sour peatiness, the mouth feel is like a mint candy with sharpness and sweetness on the tongue. Pepper appears after a few seconds. A few drops of water strengthen the spice and bring out the waxiness on the palate.

Linger: Very smoky on the roof of the mouth, and peat with spice down the gullet. You’ll get hints of sweetness on the tongue. The smoke is very dominant in the finish, but there’s a bitterness under it. The finish is mouth drying, with the whole finish made spicier with a few drops of water.


If you like peat and if you like the Clynelish waxy notes, you’ll love this expression! Needless to say that it shouts quality, it wouldn’t be out there with the Compass Box label had it not been, but this is really a beautiful whisky. Well done, John!