Sep 052015

Blair Athol distillery serves as the spiritual home for Bell’s blended whisky, which is the best selling whisky in the UK. Bell’s became part of Diageo after Guinness eyed Bell’s success 1985, and acquired it through a hostile takeover. Bell’s signature malt is Blair Athol, but it also has malts from Dufftown, Caol Ila, Glenkinchie and Inchgower. Also figuring in the blend was Pittyvaich, but after the distillery was closed in 1993, blending stocks dwindled off and are no longer used in Bell’s.

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This is an old distillery, one of those established in the late 18th century (1798), but does not have its own bottlings. The distillery was part of UDV’s Flora and Fauna series, where a 12 year old with an otter on the label was released, and bottles of this expression are still available. One 27 year old was bottled in the Rare Malts Selection series in 2003 at 54.7% ABV, but subsequently none of the annual Special Releases featured a Blair Athol. The only other bottling is a 2010 NAS distillery exclusive bottled from a First fill sherry cask at cask strength (55.8% ABV).

The late Michael Jackson described Blair Athol whisky as one that “matures quickly and behaves like a gentleman” and as sturdy and well proportioned.

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Wemyss Malts Blair Athol 1986 – Autumn Berries – Hogshead bottled 2012, Yield 268 Bottles (46% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Straw, thin legs.

Nose: Malt and cereal, with honey, floral notes and wax. After a while, the bourbon cask comes through confectionery notes and hints of rose water. Allowed some time, a sour note appears, reminding me of a white wine.

Palate: Buttered popcorn just on the cusp of going stale, beer sourness with notes of artificial sweetener, red berries but more on the side of raspberries and cranberries.

Linger: Sour and long fruity notes, with spice. Dry and somewhat metallic.


If you’re into sweet whiskies, this one is obviously not one for you. If, however, you like tartness, you’ll find this expression very rewarding and fun, especially sorting through the flavors on the palate.




Jun 172015

My review of the Craigellachie 13 was quite unequivocal about how much I disliked that expression. Today I’ll be reviewing a 12 year old single cask bottled by Wemyss Malts that is one of the most interesting Craigellachie expressions I’ve had, even though it’s somewhat untamed and sits right on the cusp of losing its “baby fat” and becoming a properly matured whisky, and therein is the strength of this bottling.

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Craigellachie stills create little reflux, and thus produce a spirit that’s rather rough, oily and sulfuric, effects which the official 13 year old does not mitigate well. In sherry casks, however, younger Craigellachies do quite well, as does this expression:

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Wemyss Malts Craigellachie 2002 “Dark Treacle Fondant” – Sherry Butt, Yield 804 Bottles (46% ABV, NCF, NC)

Apperance: Bronze, thin and long legs.

Nose: Somewhat untame with sour wood spices, cinnamon, chocolate milk, quite a bit of malt, deep sweet notes. Classic sherry notes follow after time with Sultanas and dark berries with bittersweet chocolate and a latte coffee.

Palate: That sweet and sour note from the nose is first, then come the spices with pepper and cinnamon with a sprinkle of brown sugar, with touches of oak.

Linger: Spice, namely cinnamon and clove, chocolate and light sour notes on the palate. Light spice comes in on the back of the throat and a light tartness inside the cheeks.


This Craigellachie is two faced – on the one hand it’s youngish, malty and fresh and on the other is a spirit that has a lot of respect for the sherry cask in which its been maturing.

This is a very interesting whisky, and my only concern is its price point. At €85 in the Netherlands, it’s priced at the higher end of a level more appropriate of cask strength bottlings, not expressions watered down to 46%. For comparison, the same store sells the already overpriced OB 13 (also at 46%) for €50. At €60-65, I would have gladly added a bottle of this whisky to my cabinet.


Mar 302015

My affinity and curiosity (and often disappointment) from vatted malts is well known to my readers, as making a really good vatted malt, one that truly highlights what each of the different malts brings into the blend is a true feat of art. Also well known is my disdain for the inevitable “best ____ whisky of 201X” prize-fests, especially those that don’t come with a detailed reasoning of the reasons for the particular selection versus the other contestants.

On another front, Wemyss' Kingsbarns Distillery recently opened. Photo Credit:

On another front, Wemyss’ Kingsbarns Distillery recently opened.
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So with all those caveats in mind, I got to taste Wemyss’ Velvet Fig, quite a long time after a friend sent me a sample of it. Incidentally, that week Velvet Fig also won Whisky Magazine’s Best Scotch Blended Malt at the World Whiskies Awards, making this post doubly timely.

In Velvet Fig, Wemyss changed their entire approach to vatted malts (or malt blends, as they should be legally referred to ). The previous editions of the three regional vatted malts -The Hive, Peat Chimney and Spice King – were bottled at 40% ABV, not stated to be unchill filtered, and were age stated with both 8 and 12 year old versions available. Velvet Fig, on the other hand, is NAS but is bottled at 46% and is non chill filtered (the press release says “natural mahogany color” so I’ll assume there’s not coloring added). Right off the bat I’d expect a much richer flavor profile, and being a heavily sherried whisky, it can probably get away with being somewhat younger. So on that front, Velvet Fig is a step forward. The only thing to be sorry about is not keeping the age statement on it.

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Wemyss Malts Velvet Fig Vatted Malt (46% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Deep bronze, very slow legs.

Nose: Dried fruit jump out of the glass at you, cinnamon and cloves with a deep sherry sweetness, wood spices and orange peel under the sweet layer.

Palate: Sweet and syrupy, with sweetness washing over the tongue, sweet and hot spices intertwine with the tiniest hint of salt.

Linger: Light dryness on sides of cheeks plays with a latent sweetness on the tongue. Notes of espresso and chocolate mix with gentle spice.


They nailed it! They really did with this one. While I wasn’t all that enthused with Peat Chimney (reviewed here), this vatted malt is a whole new ball game.

It feels like Aberlour A`bunadh with a touch of Talisker and a western Highlander for the Salt (like Old Pulteney), and the malts work beautifully together. The bottle says that this is a limited edition, and if so, and sherry is your thing, you might want to get a bottle.

Jan 102015

This is going to be just a quick tasting note on another independent Clynelish, the Wemyss Vanilla Summer, a 14 year old. This is an enjoyable experssion, though not the most complex.

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Wemyss Malts Clynelish 1997 ‘Vanilla Summer’, 14 Year Old single cask, Yield of 363 Bottles (46% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold with slow legs.

Nose: Fresh vanilla and freshly ground pepper, honey, mint (like toothpaste mint), perfume and flowers, confectionery and coconut.

Palate: Full bodied, floral soft candy, mild spices. Good, but simple.

Linger: Short in mouth with floral notes, the alcoholic burn delivers some spiciness to the back of the throat, but remains alcoholic rather than spicy.


This is a good drinker, very different than the ‘normal’ Clynelish you’d expect out of an OB. However, don’t expect anything very complex here, just a nice whisky off the beaten Clynelish path.

Jan 092015

This Clynelish is fully of the sea.

Wemyss names their single cask expressions with SMWS style descriptive names, and this Clynelish is aptly called “Bench with a Sea View”. This, of course, isn’t all that surprising, given just how close it actually is to the sea, as you can tell in this picture:

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In truth, tasting this expression brought me back the excellent Old Pulteney 17 (reviewed here), and was much more in line with it than with a Clynelish, not to mention yesterday’s Clynelish sherry bomb. As with all the Wemyss single casks (all those I’ve had, by the way, were excellent), I’ll repeat my pet peeve of not having them at cask strength, despite being priced as if they were.

Wemyss Malts Clynelish 1997, 17 Year Old single cask, Yield of 371 Bottles (46% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold with quick and thick legs.

Nose: Heather honey and caramel candy with a deep floral sweetness. Lemon drops and bread dough, sweet cake topping and salty breeze notes round out this nose, with time in the glass bringing out more saltiness.

Palate: Mild sweetness and spice with salt and some citrus bitterness, in a full body.

Linger: Spicy in the back of the throat and salty in the mouth. This long finish takes me right back to the Old Pulteney 17.


This expression has a stunning nose, and the dram becomes progressively saltier as you go along. None of the typical waxiness in it though, so you’d have a hard time telling it’s a Clynelish, and as I said, this could have been an Old Pulteney 17, which is a huge compliment!