Jun 122019

Tobermory 12 is an “upgrade” to the entry level Tobermory core range, replacing the 10 year old, as the distillery comes back online after a major upgrade.
Going into this article, I will mention that Distell is on the whole my favorite multi-distillery producer in Scotland, with all three of their distilleries (and four brands) right near the top of my favorite distilleries. In fact, my collection has more Distell bottles in it than any other company, with a single exception of a certain Eastern Highlands distillery (I know you all know which one 😉 ).

Derek Scott, brand director at Distell, said in an interview for scotchwhisky.com for the reopening of the distillery: ‘We came to the conclusion that while the 10-year-old Tobermory was a great whisky, it really hadn’t quite reached its full potential. It’s quite a big change to an old, established brand like Tobermory, but what a difference a couple of years makes.’

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

But that isn’t the whole story. In an interview last week on scotchwhisky.com, Stephen Woodcock, who oversees operations for Distell in the three distilleries, told us the real reason for moving the very successful 10 year old to a 12:

‘Those new stills won’t change the way we distil our whisky. If you’ve got a good thing going, you don’t change it. However, what we have done is rebranded the Tobermory 10 to a Tobermory 12, relaunching it with new, vibrant packaging. The 10-year-old was a fine dram and to be honest, we were underselling it. But rather than being cynical and just increasing the price of the bottle, we’ve premiumised it by leaving the whisky for a couple of extra years in the cask. Those two years have added a nice round maturity to the whisky, coupled with a sweetness the 10-year-old was lacking. I believe the age, the quality of the spirit and the price point now all tie together beautifully.’

You can read the full interview here, but it seems pretty clear that Distell was simply unhappy with the profit margin on the 10, and wanted to push the entry level expression into the next bracket of price, to support the new ‘premiumization’ of the distillery.

So the price went up from 32 to 42 Pounds (35 to 45 Euro) for what is essentially the same whisky, held for two more years in ex bourbon casks. But how different is the 12 from the 10?

First, you might want to peruse my 2015 review of the Tobermory 10 here.

Image result for tobermory 12Tobermory 12 (46.3% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Deep gold, very viscous liquid leaves a necklace releasing very slow moving legs.

Nose: Fresh and salty, with a yeasty cerealness. Some unripe banana, with a hint of baking white bread. Further back lay some tropical fruit, with green mango and barely ripe papaya, with a squeeze of lime.

Palate: Honey and citrus peel, with some light pepper and a return of the overall sweetness. In the second sip, the spice is more complex, with white and black pepper, a hint of nutmeg and a dusting of chili, with a pinch of salt.

Linger: Pepper and some grapefruit peel, with a hint of the salt on the back of the tongue. Honey comes up from time to time in the finish too. The gullet has some spice that lingers on and on.


It seems like the maritime character was amplified over the 10, together with an emphasis on fruit. This is a good entry level dram, which will easily be a staple on my basics shelf – alongside Glen Garioch 12, Bunnahabhain 12, Clynelish 14, the Aberlour Casg Annamh and a south Islay peat monster such as the Laphroaig QC, PX or Three Wood or an Ardbeg (currently an Oogie, but they tend to rotate).

But Is it a 30% improvement on the 10? I’m afraid the answer is yes, mainly if you’re one of the bean counters at Distell….


May 222019

Balblair revamped also the duty free range, offering the 12, 15 and the future 25 years old in travel retail, but has chosen to offer the Balblair 17 instead of the 18 year old. Why keep 75% of your core range on travel retail shelves just to replace a single expression? This is the third time I’m coming up dry in my quest to understand a move the distillery is making, but I guess the marketing guys do (or at least I hope for Inver House that that’s the case).

You have probably seen my take on the the new core range, and if not, you can see it here.

Either way, it is what it is, and now it’s time to stop ranting, and turn our attention to the liquid in the bottle:


Balblair 17

Photo Credit: Balblair Distillery

Balblair 17 (46%)

Appearance: Bronze, with a thin necklace and sluggish legs.

Nose: OK guys, what went wrong? I was expecting a step up from the 15. Totally subdued with varnish and some sour farmy notes. The sherry is shyly hiding behind some red fruit jam. A hint of dried apricot and some white pepper. A drop of water brings out a whiff of honeysuckle and a touch of chocolate.

Palate: After an initial spicy wash, fruit galore come through, with hints of red apple and pears, with some faint hint of waxy feijoa and some dried pineapple.

Linger: Pepper and some earthy dryness. There’s a small hint of sourness and a lot of sweetness, with lovely spice running down the gullet.


The nose is weird, but the palate and finish are great.

While the 15 would win on the nose, this expression is the better sipper, but both are flawed.

May 052019

I’ll come out and say it: I’m a fan of the use of virgin oak in Scotch whisky and think that there isn’t enough of it used. I’m sure this will be controversial, but it’s my opinion, and I’ve stated it before.

Of course, with a few exceptions, full maturation in virgin oak is something that is saved to very few expressions, especially if you’re talking about whisky that’s fully matured in virgin oak. For those, we have the Glen Garioch Virgin Oak, Auchentoshan Virgin Oak and the Benromach Organic.

Glen Garioch Virgin Oak Batch 1

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

When it comes to finishes and partial composition, things get easier. The Bruichladdich Octomore X.4 have varying compositions of virgin oak matured whisky, Deanston has a nice Virgin Oak NAS, Glenglassaugh has a peated whisky in a virgin oak finish and you’ll recall that the Ardbeg Kelpie had some whisky matured in virgin Adygea Oak, and you can read more about it in my post on the Committee Release. You might also recall that the Amrut Spectrum has partial virgin oak matured whisky. Going a little further back, I’ll mention the long gone Vintage 1993 Glenmorangie Ealanta, matured in virgin oak casks for 19 years.

You’ll find my tasting notes on the first edition here.


Photo Credit: Glen Garioch Distillery

Glen Garioch Virgin Oak No. 2 (48% ABV, NCF)

Appearance: Light copper, it’s lighter in color than the 2011 virgin oak single cask reviewed yesterday, which would suggest that coloring wasn’t used (and shouldn’t be in the first place in ANY Glen Garioch expression). Thin and slow legs come off a pretty sturdy necklace.

Nose: Toffee and vanilla, with a note of baking bread and some nutmeg. The nose is mild and fresh, but in no way young. Some time in the glass brings out some Granny Smith apples and more of the mash tun notes, with that toffee.

Palate: Honey and malt, with gentle black pepper. There’s a barky bitterness tinged with the honey sweetness with a hint of floral notes coming up the nose as you hold it in your mouth.

Linger: First you have the layer of the black pepper on the dry tongue, with a tingle on the inner cheeks. Then the sweetness comes out, and while the pepper is still there, as the linger slowly fades, it leaves more of the sweetness in there.


This expression seems milder than the first batch, but this might just be my memory of it. I really like it, and this could easily become my daily dram bottle. I think Ron did a great job with this one!


May 042019

This 2011 Glen Garioch is a harbinger for the sequel to the very successful Virgin Oak. Indeed, a few months before the release of Batch 2 of the Virgin Oak, the distillery released a very limited single cask of the whisky that will make up that expression, at cask strength.

Glen Garioch

Photo Credit: blog.parkinn.com

I’ll have more to say about Batch 2 of the Virgin Oak in the upcoming review, but this is a very lovely single cask.

Virgin oak works very quickly on new make, and seven years are plenty of time for some real flavor to develop in the cask.

Photo Credit: Dave Farquharson

Glen Garioch 2011, Cask 1409, Distilled May 23, 2011, Virgin Oak Cask Distillery Exclusive (60.8% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Bronze, very slow and thin legs coming very slowly off a sturdy necklace.

Nose: Toffee, caramel and coconut, with sweet honey and fresh wood shavings. Faint popcorn and a creamy butteriness. It has some traits in common with bourbon on the nose. Water takes it further toward bourbon or grain. Water also brings out the malt, or specifically the mash, as well as a hint of fresh ginger and brine.

Palate: Dry and spicy, pretty intense. There’s a lot of oak – almost sawdust – and harsh pepper. It definitely could use some water. The addition of water highlights the pepper, but brings out some mint and some yellow plums and some chalkiness.

Linger: Warm and spicy on a dry palate, with a buttery sweetness remaining in the mouth. The gullet has spice lingering. With water, the linger is spicier and sweeter. It’s actually a more intense finish with the water.


It’s only seven years old, but the virgin oak really allows it to mature nicely. This is complex and deep, albeit a little ‘in your face’, and is fun. I’ll be reviewing the second edition of the general release of the Virgin Oak in the next few days, as well as a few other distillery exclusive casks.

Oct 272018

After trying the 1987 single cask (AKA Sage Galore), we turn to the Glen Garioch 1979. Now every once in a while you have a dram that makes you understand something new about whisky in general or about a certain distillery. When it’s you favorite distillery that you have the that understanding, it’s even more exciting.

Related image

Photo Credit: whiskybase.com

I have written about Glen Garioch’s dark 1980s, indeed, the whole Morrison Bowmore’s troubled decade. This decade left Bowmore with a pretty shoddy reputation, which has been admittedly rebuilt since the Suntory involvement. Suntory bought a stake in the company in 1989, and fully took it over in 1994. I have raised the conjecture that the soapy lavender prevalent in Glen Garioch from those years and Bowmore’s “french whore perfume” were products of the yeast used by MBD during those years, but I obviously have no way to prove that.

I have tasted quite a few 1978 expressions (and even reviewed a few here), and many expressions from 1990 onward, but the period between 1978 and 1986 is somewhat of a black hole, deepened only by the 1984 vintage which I have tasted both at 40% and at cask strength. All I can say about the 1984 is that I truly hope nobody ever tasted it as their first whisky ever, or they would swear off the drink forever. There’s the 1985 BYO that closed the gap between 1984 and 1986, which I reviewed here. Thus, tasting a 1979 vintage (and one matured in a first fill sherry butt) is exciting as it shortens the 1978-1984 gap by 20%.

What I have learned is that while 1978 was a high point for the distillery and a very sought after vintage, the herbal decade actually started in 1979. This cask has all the characteristics of a mid 1980s cask, so I would love to check a few things:

  1. Are there records of a yeast change in 1979 for MBD?
  2. I’d love to explore some 1978 and 1979 Bowmore to see if there’s the same change.
  3. Were they aware of this at the time?
  4. Is it possible that the loch getting so bad and the industry outlook so bleak that nobody really was paying much attention to the quality?


Photo Credit: Derek Zhang

Glen Garioch 1979, 38 Year Old, Cask 3831, Distilled 25.6.1979, First Fill Sherry Butt, Bottled for Chief Whisky Society (CWS) on 25.10.2017, 114 Bottles (42.9% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Mahogany, very slow droplets running off a sturdy necklace.

Nose: Polish and dried fruit with notes of prunes, figs and apricots, cinnamon, nutmeg and a hint of fresh mint. Dry and somewhat chalky with a hint of smoke on the wind. The apricots shift toward canned apricots with the wood spices coming round softer. There’s cake on the nose, but it’s more an English cake than a Christmas cake and a cherry liquor filled chocolate. There’s also a coniferous note in there with vanilla and a touch of vinegar.

Palate: Herbal with lavender and mint over a compote of plums. There’s a herbaceous bitterness, with white pepper and cinnamon, and a hint of chocolate and cherries.

Linger: Sweet lavender and dry mint linger on the tongue. Dry and tangy, with a touch of sweetness that remains on the tongue. There is a bitter note that stays on.


This dram takes me back to what is probably the earliest instance of the herbal notes of the 1980s. No 1978 that I tasted (and there were a few of them) had it, and by 1990 it was gone. Fascinating piece of Glen Garioch history, and a beautiful choice for CWS!

Thank you very much, Derek Zhang!