Dec 062017

Being in business for 175 years is no small feat, and doing so as an independent bottler in the whisky industry is downright impressive. Yet it seems that the company chose to play down the fact that it’s also the 45 year anniversary of the purchasing of the company by J. & A. Mitchell and Co., which is the actual beginning of the modern history of the bottler, as 1972 saw a ‘fire sale’ of the company’s whisky to cover debts, thus basically leaving the Mitchells a clean slate.

Founded in 1842 in Aberdeen by George Duncan, the business really took off under the stewardship of his son in law, William Cadenhead who ran the business from 1858 until his death in 1901, when it passed to his nephew Robert Duthie. He started actually doing independent bottlings and vatting his own malts. Upon his death in 1931, management passed to Ann Oliver who spent the next four decades filling the warehouse with casks of whisky and rum, which were then sold off in said 1972 fire sale.

Anyway, six very special and old bottles from closed (or burnt) distilleries were bottles for the anniversary, and I got to take part in a tasting of these expressions:

  •  Littlemill 26 – 1991 Vintage 52.6% ABV.
  •  Rosebank 25 – 1991 Vintage 50.3% ABV.
  •  Banff 40 – 1976 Vintage 51.2% ABV.
  •  Convalmore 40 – 1977 Vintage 56.8% ABV.
  •  Caperdonich 39 – 1977 Vintage 50.4% ABV – Sherry butt.
  • Heaven Hill 20 – 1996 Vintage 52.4% ABV – This expression was partially matured in Scotland.

My personal favorite was the Caperdonich, so here are my thoughts on it….


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Cadenheads 175th Anniversary Bottling, 1977 Caperdonich 39 Year Old, Sherry Butt, 462 Bottles (50.4% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Deep mahogany, thick and viscous.

Nose: Proper old shrry cask, with leather, tobacco, dark chocolate and a lot of dried fruit. There are prunes and sultanas, as well as dried cherries. This is a proper sherry bomb, yet it hasn’t lost its character to become only old shrry and wood. Excellent cask choice.

Palate: Old dried fruit, demerara sugar, leather and a deep dryness complementing the sweetness, with a note of dusty. Espresso and chocolate, with a bitter oaky note. Utterly delightful.

Linger: Dry dark chocolate, very dry with some of the old cask burnt wax notes, with coffee and hints of masala spices.


Did I already say delightful?

Assaf Erell organized a beautiful tasting of the six special 175th Anniversary top bottles, and I truly enjoyed taking part in it.

Sep 112016

Another Tomatin, this time a real beauty!

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Distilled in 1978, this expression harks back to the time when the distillery was the largest in all of Scotland, in that oh so optimistic pre whisky loch times. Incidentally, the distillery announced in a press release this week the release of a regular 40 year old expression for travel retail, which would have been distilled in or before 1976.


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Cadenhead’s Small Batch Tomatin 1978, 35 Year Old, Bourbon Hogsheads, Yield 594 Bottles (44.1%)

Appearance: Deep gold with beautifully symmetric legs.

Nose: Old deep honey with a hint of smoke, vanilla that’s almost cake icing and fresh, crisp sliced red apples and my sister in law Rona’s fruit juice sponge cake. After a while, hints of tropical fruit appear.

Palate: Full bodied and vibrant with honey and a mix of gentle spice mix. Creamy and just beautiful on the palate.

Linger: Sweet and slightly bitter and dry, with the bitterness dissipating leaving some unsalted butter or even butter cookies.


Gorgeous stuff, really a top dram.

Aug 292015

Caperdonich was one of those distilleries that were like a falling star. They show up, shine for a short time, are found to be redundant and poof, are gone. Brora is a prime example of such a distillery, being active between 1968 and 1983. Like Brora, which was a re-establishment of an the old Clynelish distillery after a new one was built across the road, Caperdonich was established as Glen Grant 2 back in 1897 or 1898, but was mothballed by 1902, a casualty of the Pattison affair.

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It was reopened in 1965 by Glenlivet, and after selling it to Seagrams, got it back after the Seagram’s fall 2001, and by 2002 closed off four of its distilleries: Caperdonich, Alt A’ Bhainne, BenRiach and Braeval. The other three distilleries are back in operation, but Caperdonich has been demolished in 2010. Nevertheless, there are several independent bottlings out there at any given time.

This expression is a single cask ex bourbon hogshead that was distilled in 1996 and bottled in 2011.

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Cadenhead’s Authentic Collection 1996 Caperdonich 14 Year old, 1996-2011, Bourbon Hogshead Yielded 282 Bottles (51.7% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Pale Straw with thin legs and quite a bit of residue.

Nose: Fresh red apple medley, apple juice, baking cake, porridge and distant honey.

Palate: Pine sap, dust, lemon zest, citrus bitterness, soft pepper, bittersweet chocolate, some furniture polish and some spice heat.

Linger: Sweet and bitter on the tongue with light spice high in the throat and a faint dryness in a long and overall sweet linger.


So very different from the first Caperdonich I reviewed, coming from a single sherry cask that was a total sherry bomb (see here). Tasted side by side, they would create a beautiful study in wood effect.

Yori, it was fun enjoying this dram with you!

Sep 272014

Well, we’ve gotten to the 100th post on the blog, and this is a great opportunity to start a series on vatted malts.

I’ve been fascinated by vatted malts for a long time, because of their potential. Vatted malts can, at their best, take the best in several malts and enhance them. The potential for disaster, of course, is high too, as the malts could just as easily contradict each other, either by cancelling each other out or by pulling the vatting in different directions. It would seem that the art of blending malts is the highest art in the whisky world, despite being technically less challenging than combining grain and malt whiskys.

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And yet, as a commercial category, “Blended Malt Scotch Whisky”, as it is properly and most confusingly called, is almost non existent. According to McDowall’s The Whiskies of Scotland, blending started about 1853 with vatting different Glenlivet malts into Usher’s Old Vatted Glenlivet Whisky, only later to be expanded to grain and malt blends. Even after the advent of blended scotch, vatted malts continued to be part of the scene – with a Cardhu Vatted Malt being sold by John Walker and Sons during the 1890s. The category hit its stride in the 1990s mainly in Asia, when both Diageo and The Edrington Group had world leading brand names selling vatted malts: Johnny Walker 15 Year Old Green Label and the Famous Grouse Malt range (NAS, 10, 12, 15, 18, 21 and 30), as well as a full line of Japanese pure malts from Nikka and many of the leading blended scotches (Such as Ballantine’s, Bell’s and Chivas).

But legal attention from the SWA came after Diageo decided that the Cardhu single malts will become vatted malts from several distilleries (mainly Cardhu and Glendullan), a move which was both reviled and and staunchly fought from within the industry, and within three years, Cardhu went back to being a true single malt, and by 2009 the SWA regulations required that all blending of whisky produced in more than one distillery is to be labeled “blended”, be it a blending of single malts or of single malt(s) and grain. The mid 2000s were the high point for the vatted malts, and by the end of the decade, the category suffered a serious decline.

As a category, there has been a significant decline in the demand for blended malts in Asia, and most of the big companies have withdrawn from the category, Johnny Walker Green Label being the latest casualty. On the other hand, William Grant and Sons developed Monkey Shoulder as a mixer whisky for cocktails and mixology, and as such, I’m not really sure that it can be seen as a reviver of this all but lost category.

Today, malt vatting is mostly relegated to independent bottlers, some of whom have an entire line of blended malts, showcasing varying styles. I wish to state that I approached several of these bottlers for an sample of their vatted malts for this article which I needed since non of them are sold locally, and I wish to thank those independent bottlers who lent me a hand in getting this article series underway.

This series will review six peated vatted malts – and will run upto my trip to The Whisky Exchange’s Whisky Show next weekend. I’ll start the series from those I liked least, and work my way up.

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Peated Malt Blend #1

Cadenhead’s Duthie’s Regional Series Islay (46% ABV, NCF, NC)

Quite a bit after tasting this expression, I learned that this is said to be a teaspooned Lagavulin (with a bit of Caol Ila). If that’s true, this is only technically a vatted malt and should not be used to judge the range (which is, sadly, a good thing).

Appearance: Gold, wide legs with some residual drops left behind.

Nose: New leather, peat, malt, toasted coconut, vanilla, wood fire (ha! got you there, Laga!). Some water brings out some sweetness.

Palate: Extremely one dimensional with peat slowly milding out on the tongue.

Linger: Very short and just peaty.



Honestly, I was happy to learn that this isn’t a proper blended malt, as this expression was utterly forgettable. The nose was promising, but the palate had nothing but peat, and a pretty mellow peat once you hold it in your mouth for a bit. I guess that means that only Monday’s contestant, Wymess’ Peat Chimney, will actually begin the real battle of the vatted malts.

I wish to thank Klaus of the Cadenhead’s shop in Berlin for inviting me to the Islay tasting.

Sep 152014

Bladnoch is a Lowlands distillery that had been closed in 1938 and has been changing hands since. Brought back into operation in 1956 it changed ownership five times, ending up in Diageo’s predecessor’s hands and was later sold to the current owner Raymond Armstrong on the condition that the distillery not produce more than 100,000 litres, which is nowhere near enough to make it a leading distillery.

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This expression was distilled in 1990, while Bladnoch was still owned by United Distillers (Diageo’s predecessor). Only recently did the spirit distilled by the new ownership make it to the stores – with expressions 10-12 years old. I have yet to taste any of those, and look forward to.


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Bladnoch Cadenhead’s Authentic Collection, 23 Years (48.5% ABV, NCG, NC)

Appearance: Straw, fast thick legs, leaves a ring around the top or the glass.

Nose: Clearly Lowland – flowers, apple vinegar, vanilla, hay, open fields. A drop of water increases the apple vinegar and brings out some red apple.

Palate: Flowers with mild sweetness. Wood tannins are appearant and the spice comes through – allspice with notes of black pepper.

Linger: Spice on the tounge with a medium finish.



Not the most complex whisky I’ve come across, and the apple vinegar is rather dominant, but a good dram nevertheless.

I look forward to tasting the new products that were distilled post 2000, as they are basically a craft distillery, albeit one that will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2017.