Sep 032018
 

Gordon & MacPhail have revamped their bottlings, and consolidated some of the many “mini brands” into only five very clear lines of products. Connoisseurs Choice is at the heart of the range. It includes both cask strength and reduced strength whisky, always carrying a vintage statement on the label. These are single casks or a few casks vatted together.

Photo Credit: Gordon & MacPhail

The other Gordon & MacPhail ranges are: the Discovery range – the range caters to newcomers to the G&M portfolio, color coded into “smoky” “bourbon” and “sherry” designations; Distillery Labels is the “unofficial official bottling” program the company held for decades for distilleries like Mortlach, Strathisla, Pulteney, Ardmore, Scapa, Glentauchers and Linkwood.

Gordon & MacPhail will reveal the Private Collection and Generations ranges revamped design sometime in the fall of 2018.

Obviously, the bottles may have changed, but the liquid inside hasn’t. You know what you’re getting with every purchase, and you know it will be a quality product.

This is a bottle of Clynelish from a single sherry butt, but with a very gentle sherry influence.  I got to enjoy it with great friends on a small island in the Finnish archipelago, in what is probably the best setting for a dram in the whole wide world.

Photo Credit: Whisky-Online.com

Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice Cask Strength Clynelish 2005, Refill Sherry Butt 18/012, Yielded 518 Bottles (55.1% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Amber, Viscous with quite a bit of residue on the glass.

Nose: Starts out closed hinting at honey and spice. There’s a touch of fresh stone fruit and more honey, with hints of sweet wood spices and some orange.

Palate: Honey and lots of wax, with allspice and some cinnamon.
Water adds spice, with a touch of cardamom and helps the wax stand out.

Linger: Waxy, citrusy, and peppery staying long on the tongue. After water, the pepper stays even longer on the tongue.

Conclusion

It’s good, but I would expect that a few months in the open bottle will take it to a whole new level. There’s a lot of potential in this one, especially if it loses some of the heat in the finish.

A wonderfully fun whisky for a sunny evening on a Finnish island….Skål!

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 🙂

 

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 €50-60 or $70)

1. Springbank 10*

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

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  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Big Peat Christmas Edition 2017*

Photo Credit: Douglaslaing.com

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 🙂

 

 

 

 

3. Bunnahabhain 12*

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

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 😉

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’s not really a beginner’s dram, but one that will hold your interest regardless of how advanced you are in your whisky journey. It’s also a whisky that delivers one of the better value for money deals out there.”

 

 

 

 

 

4. Aberlour A’bunadh*

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

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*

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

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

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

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 €115 or $130)

7. Balblair 1990 (2nd Release)

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

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

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

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*

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

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 “do” finishes. This is mine…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Category III – Going All Out (Over £100)

10. Diageo Collectivum XXVIII

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

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*

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

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

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

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!

 

 

Jan 102017
 

I’ll be brief today, as I’ve written quite a bit both about Clynelish and about Douglas Laing, although I can say that there’s a treat from Douglas Laing coming our way in the next few days.

Photo Credit: spiritedsingapore.com

I’ve yet to be disappointed by an Old Particular bottling (and I’ve tasted quite a few of them), and this one is no exception!

 

Photo Credit: Douglas Laing

Douglas Laing Old Particular Clynelish, 18 years old, 298 bottles, Refill Hogshead DL10999 (48.4%ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Copper with a thick and oily necklace and slow forming legs.

Nose: Deep honey sweetness with overtones of a fresh bouquet of flowers, baked apples, peach compote, hint of peat and a touch of wax. After a while in the glass, you’ll get a hit of cereal.

Palate: Spice with orange zest, a cognac like fruitiness, and a little bit of peat, with a hint of waxiness. On the end of the swallow, a hint of tropical fruit appears.

Linger: Sweet honey and pepper, with an overall dryness in the finish. Spice running down the gullet, softer than black pepper, but not quite as gentle as white pepper.

Conclusion

This whisky is highly drinkable. It’s simply a great cask, and I really have nothing more to add other than if you happen to chance across a bottle, adopt it 😉

Oct 102016
 

So they call This whisky a three-year-old. Now, of course, it technically is as 0.04 of it is, indeed, only three years old. Yes, you read that right, four tenths of a percent is three-year-old whisky from Clynelish that was aged by Compass Box itself in their own first fill American Oak casks. In the PR text, they claim that “it imparts a lively vivacity to the blend” but honestly how much can 4/10 of a percent influence a blend. In your 700 ml bottle, You’ll find only 2.8 ml of this new Clynelish. It was added not to impart a vivacity nor to celebrate Compass Box’s own spirit, but to flick the birdie to the industry as a whole together with EU and UK lawmakers, the SWA and probably to the big companies as well. This is John Glaser saying, loudly and clearly, I can sell an officially labeled three-year-old whisky for £200, and you all know that I’m probably the only one in the industry who can do that.

The beautiful thing is that fans, anoraks, and pundits alike received news of this forthcoming creation with great interest and ovation as is evidenced by the fact that the initial news of this impending release, brought to you freshly off the TTB website right here on Malt and Oak has climbed to the third most popular post on the website, not to mention the numerous likes, wows and comments on social media on the post’s shares. I will note that the USA label said it would be released at 51.6%, whereas this version is 49.2% – I’m not quite sure where that discrepancy comes from, and being Sunday night, I can’t find out at the moment. ***SEE UPDATE ON ABV BELOW***

But that’s not all. Following legal advice that Compass Box received, they have concluded that interested individuals who wish to know the exact composition of their blends, may be given that information if contact is made directly with the company. Without wasting a moment, I contacted Compass Box and asked for the exact composition of the three-year-old deluxe. This information was sent to me posthaste, with a very direct request that I not divulge this information publicly on the blog, so that they may not be accused of using bloggers as a channel to circumvent the law. While, entre nouz, I would have no scruples in making this information public, I will fully respect the company’s request, simply because they will happily provide you with that information should you contact them directly by dropping a line to hello@compassboxwhisky.com, or by hitting them up with a private message on their Facebook page or through Twitter.

So what is in the blend?

Credit: Compass Box

Credit: Compass Box

We have 90.7% of the blend coming from Clynelish, the youngest component of which is obviously three years old, I will say though that the rest is far from being young in any way, with 9.3% coming from what must be a very rare find indeed: a nicely aged Talisker drawn from a first fill Sherry butt.

Like I said, John Glaser has an incredible nose both for making beautiful whisky, and for creating beautiful PR to go with that whisky. In this case the master outdid himself and really stuck this one in the face of the regulators.

Okay enough with the blabber, I have a glass with a measure of this Three Year Old Deluxe and I’d like to get to the tasting!

 

Photo Credit: Compass Box

Photo Credit: Compass Box

Appearance: Gold, very thin legs forming rather slowly office sturdy necklace.

Nose: The Clynelish is strong in this one with honey, a waxiness and yet with quite a bit of wood spices coming from the Sherry cask. Orange blossom, clove, lemon scented car wax, hint of cinnamon and nutmeg, and the freshness that quite belies the true age of all but the touch of young whisky in your. Maybe it does impart a “lively vivacity” after all…

Palate: first the spices wash over your tongue, with black pepper, clove and a hint of chili. There is also grapefruit rind, and only in the second tasting and you actually discern the peat from the spice there is also a subtle sweetness that washes over your tongue for the briefest moment before it is again washed over by the peppery spice.

Linger: a jalapeno coated in wax would probably leave your mouth as dry and tingly with a waxy feeling all around. The spiciness and bitterness play around in the very dry mouth you’re left with by the dram. The top of your gullet remains full of spice, and after a few minutes go by, the spiciness leaves your mouth peaty and waxy which remains with you for quite a long time.

Conclusion

I expected nothing less, but this really is a beautiful dram. Clynelish and Talisker work together beautifully and the refill American Oak hogsheads work so beautifully with the first fill sherry butt from Talisker. One caveat though would be that if you’re not a fan of spicy whisky this dram is in for you. For the rest of us though, this is pure delight in a bottle.

I’m glad I got to taste this whisky and post my notes for it before my pilgrimage to Scotland begins tomorrow. My review of the Spice Tree Extravaganza will probably have to wait for my return in two weeks.

Official sample provided by Compass Box. Slainte!

***UPDATE: Mr. Jonathan Gibson of Compass Box replied to my query about the ABV saying that the TTB label approval has to have a lead time measured in months, and the final formula wasn’t finalized yet at that time. Mr. Gibson stated that: “In the weeks that followed it was tweaked slightly both in terms of the proportions of components and the bottling strength to what we felt was the best possible recipe.  The final bottling strength is 49.2%”.

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.

Photo Credit: hatchbyte.com

Photo Credit: hatchbyte.com

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 😉