Milk & Honey Peated Cask Finish (LMDW 2019, 55%)

Bought: Online Auction, 19th December 2019

Ratings:

84/100 – Whiskyfun (Serge Valentin, one of the famous Malt Maniacs)

I always love it when a new country joins the world of whisky production. In August 2017 I watched with interest as Israel’s Milk & Honey (M&H) distillery had bottles from its inaugural release up for sale on Whisky Auctioneer. The cheapest bottle went for £403, a bit more than my pocket money would allow but it was a great start for the young distillery from Tel Aviv. I made a mental note to get a bottle as soon as prices came down to earth.

Jump forward over 2 years and I won this M&H bottle at auction, made exclusively for ‘La Maison du Whisky’ in France. At 55%, non-chill filtered, natural colour, matured in ex-bourbon casks before being lightly peated in an ex-Islay cask – wow, this ticks all my boxes! It may only be 3’ish years old but the boys at M&H have the heat of the Middle East on their side, which gives a far more rapid maturation process. A skill they gained knowledge about from whisky consultant Jim Swan, who contributed to the success at Kavalan distillery, Taiwan.

84/100 is a decent score from Serge Valentin of Whiskyfun. He concludes with “very good, but the new ‘regular’ M&H is even better in my book”. Does M&H have a ‘regular’ whisky? Perhaps the 46% ‘Classic’ or ‘Elements’ as reviewed by my good friend Tobi over on Barley Mania. Serge is certainly not referring to the ‘Young Single Malt’, rated only 69/100. Which brings me to one issue I have with M&H; their terminology. When I read ‘Young Single Malt’ I can’t be the only one that assumes this is whisky, when in reality it’s ‘young spirit’ or ‘malt spirit’, which hasn’t reached 3 years old. ‘Young Single Malt’ is the sort of description I’d expect for Ardbeg’s 5yo ‘Wee Beastie’, which is most definitely whisky. But quibbles aside, M&H have certainly announced themselves with fanfare on the world whisky map.

Tasting notes from La Maison du Whisky where this bottle sold for a mere €65 (which seems too cheap!):

Nose: first nose reveals beeswax, candied fruit (peat), camphor and intense smoke. Allowed to breathe, it becomes animal (smoked meat), floral (tuberose) and rooty (gentian). The resolute attack is characterised by notes of talc and pommade (ointment).

Taste: The mid-palate evokes thin strips of dried peat. Gradually, the flavour palate becomes fruity and floral (banana, date, violet, dandelion).

Finish: The rich finish is candied (lemon), peaty and vanilla. The retro-nasal olfaction is vegetal (cut hay), saline and smoky (tobacco).

Masterclass by Milk & Honey, at Whisky Live Paris 2019 (YouTube October 2019):

Towiemore ‘Classic Selection’ (43%)

Bought: Amazon, 31st July 2020

Ratings:

79.95/100 – Whiskybase (average from 42 member votes)

Another example from The Lost Distillery Company (TLDC), Towiemore was a Speyside distillery that ran from 1897 to 1931. It didn’t have a very auspicious start, coincided with the Pattinson’s whisky crash of 1898, which saw the end of the Victorian whisky boom. Nevertheless Towiemore built up a good reputation both for blending and as a pure malt. By 1920 the company sponsored the first single-engine aircraft to fly between England and Australia, taking 206 days, must like the old Virgin train journey between London and Manchester. Sadly the distillery was put out of business in 1931 when its water source from the Towie Burn was contaminated by a nearby lime factory.

Built in the parish of Botriphnie, 7 miles from Dufftown, there’s no shortage of modern distilleries nearby to recreate a Towiemore dram. Although technically Speyside, Towiemore was on the road to Keith and was said to have a light and sweet Highland style. Perhaps Strathisla is a key part of the mix, with Glenfiddich, Kininvie and Balvenie being the closest Speyside distilleries to the south-west. But what malts have been vatted together to produce the modern Towiemore, TLDC are keeping a secret.

Comments online include “not bad, but not outstanding, though quite unique.”, “an interesting concept, but at the end of it all there has to be a good product; and this is a delightful” and “what a gem of a whisky, Speyside style, with a light touch of smoke but really smooth in the mouth”.

Scoring nearly 80/100 on Whiskybase, Towiemore isn’t the best performing whisky by TLDC but it’s certainly an interesting one to try and clearly has its fans.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Juicy white peach and raspberries, with underlying hints of oily walnut.

Palate: Caramelised banana and apple, with a layer of salted butter.

Finish: Christmas spices and toasted almonds.

Here’s The Whisky Family with their thoughts about the Towiemore on YouTube (March 2018):

Highland Park ‘Valknut’

Bought: Master of Malt, 14th August 2019

Ratings:

85/100 – Whiskybase (average from 238 member votes)

The ‘Valknut’ release of 2018 is the second in Highland Park’s ‘Viking Legend’ series, which started with ‘Valkyrie’ in 2017 and finished with the third release ‘Valfather’ in 2019. If you have a nut allergy, don’t panic! The Valknut does not contain nuts and I haven’t seen any reference to nuts in the tasting notes. The word ‘Valknut’ translates as ‘knot of those slain in battle’ and refers to a symbol of three inter-linked triangles, which represent the transition from earthly life to heavenly life.

If you’re a fan of German football you might recognise the Valknut symbol. The 3 inter-linked triangles inspired the logo used by the German Football Association (DFB) since 1991. Archaeology has found the symbol on a variety of objects used by the ancient Germanic peoples. The symbol has a strong connection with Odin, a prominent god of Northern Europe as recorded during Roman occupation over 2000 years ago. Germany, Scandinavia, Orkney – we’re all connected. If you start reading up on it you’ll be needing a drop of whisky to keep you going!

Highland Park say about the Valknut “created using a higher proportion of our local peated malt and matured in a combination of sherry seasoned European and American oak casks and ex-bourbon casks.” It’s this extra peat that’s caught the attention of a lot of the drinkers, in a favourable way. Scoring 85/100 on Whiskybase is a very good mark, which nudges it ahead of its two ‘Legend’ brothers, the Valkyrie (83.7/100) and Valfather (84.3/100). Comments online for the Valknut include “good balance. Seaweeds and peach go hand in hand. This is very pleasant and quaffable”, “really nice balance and a lot of taste which makes this a dram that I can keep pouring all evening without boring me” and “good approachable Highland Park, which even though it is a NAS, shows fair complexity and depth”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Warming peat smoke rises, paired with fresh vanilla, thyme honey and sandalwood.

Palate: Toasted barley and fennel seed, with a kick of cinnamon underneath.

Finish: Flamed orange peel, a very light touch of BBQ char, gingerbread and nutmeg.

Here’s Vin PF of ‘No Nonsense Whisky’ with his thoughts about the Valknut on YouTube (Dec 2018):

Talisker 15-year-old, Diageo Special Release 2019

Bought: Master of Malt, 28th October 2019

Ratings:

87.82/100 – Whiskybase (average from 492 member votes)

84/100 – Ralfy (his YouTube review below)

I was quite glad when I realised that the Diageo ‘special release’ of Talisker for 2020 was an 8-year-old. My instant reaction was “that’s the same age statement as the 2018 release, so I’ve got it already”. Complete nonsense I know because they’re obviously different whiskies but, heck, it’s the same age! If they’d made the 2020 a 9yo, or 11yo, I would have felt compelled to get it but…. another 8yo? No, I’ll save my money. The Cardhu 11yo looked much more interesting, which I’ll be blogging about at a later date.

I’m a big fan of the standard Talisker 10yo. It’s in my top 3 favourite go-to whiskies. When I finally tried the distillery’s 18yo release I was rather disappointed. The 10yo is youthful and vibrant, which was mellowed out and lost after another 8 years in the cask. It therefore came as no surprise that Ralfy only gives this 15yo release 84/100, which is quite a low mark from him. Although 87.82/100 on Whiskybase is a great score, the younger 8yo from the previous year breaks 88/100 with over 630 votes.

It’s often said that Islay whiskies taste great when young, and Ardbeg have embraced that with their 5yo ‘Wee Beastie’ release but can the same be said for Talisker? Perhaps not as young as 5 but maybe 10 years is the optimal age, with enough maturity to have depth but still youthful to have that zing on your taste buds.

Whatever my amateurish, unscientific opinion, comments online for the Talisker 15yo have been very favourable. Remarks included “brilliant Talisker that reminds me somewhat of the 57° North”, “great whisky, a wide palette of derivatives, wonderful soft smoky peat notes framed by sweet cream, excellent balance, depth, very smooth, polished” and “peaty, salty, malty and really bold and impressive”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: A seaweed iodine note is the first to spring from the glass – but it’s sunny and inviting, not industrial and heavy. Kelloggs Cornflakes, honey-roasted cashews, tangy cinnamon, warm nutmeg, and caramel notes build on the sense of sunshine, while an undercurrent of peat smoke brings depth. Water rounds it all out a bit and gives more of a velvety impression.

Palate: The rush of sweetness is a real surprise – on the front of the palate there are peach notes, raisin and perhaps red cherry. Then it’s all about that rich spice, along with the peat – a delicious abutment of pepper heat, bright allspice and rolling smoke. With water, it gets even sweeter and a little quieter, but still really tasty and mouth-filling.

Finish: Long and rich, but with a happy lightness, too.

Here’s Ralfy on YouTube with his thoughts about the Talisker 15yo Special Release by Diageo (Sept 2020):

Gerston ‘Classic Selection’ (43%)


Bought: Amazon, 31st July 2020

Ratings:

81.22/100 – Whiskybase (average from 25 member votes)

Gerston distillery, of which there were two incarnations, was founded in 1796 by Francis Swanson on his farm near the Thurso river at Halkirk. In modern terms it’s not far from Old Pulteney distillery in Wick but not as far north as Wolfburn distillery on the north coast of Scotland. Halkirk is only 14 miles south of Wolf Burn. In 1825 Francis handed the business over to his son James who ran it until 1872 when it was sold. By 1875 Gerston distillery was closed and eventually demolished in 1882. 76 years as a successful family run business then 10 years to be destroyed. It goes to show how much pride and care people take when it’s something they or their family started. This reminds me, I must buy some more Glenfarclas!

There was a second Gerston distillery, 1886 to 1914 but ‘The Lost Distillery Company’ (TLDC) focus their attention on the original incarnation with this intriguing vatted malt, which blends together modern whisky in an attempt to recreate the Gerston single malt experience. The distillery used local peat, which had quite a briny, salty edge to it as a consequence of repeated glacial cover during the Ice Age. TLDC mention smoke and salt in their tasting notes but not peat (nor does any other review I can find) so it must be quite subtle (more sweet peat than medicinal). It sounds like Old Pulteney could be a significant contributor to the mix with the salt and brine.

Scoring 81.22/100 on Whiskybase is a reasonable score for the Gerston. In fact it’s almost identical to the 81.23/100 score for the standard Old Pulteney 12yo, so you know what to expect. Comments online include “love the bottle, light colour but packs a punch, sweet nose then a salty taste of the sea” and “pleased with this whisky, sweet and salty. Interesting story behind this product, keen to try more in the range.”

It is said that at its peak Gerston whisky was purchased by Lord Thurso of Thurso Castle and introduced to prominent politicians such as Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel. Other notable consumers included the Duke of Wellington and the Archbishop of York, so you’re in interesting company when you take a sip. Aaaaah, to have a time machine!

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: New leather, dried barley, charred oak and apple turnover.

Palate: Peanut brittle, olive oil, mint leaf and more pastry notes.

Finish: A subtly salty kick on the finish.

Here’s ‘Whisky Wednesday’ with his thoughts about the Gerston miniature on YouTube (July 2017):

Highland Park ‘Saltire’ 13-year-old 2nd Edition

Bought: Highland Park Shop, 11th November 2019

Ratings:

86.87/100 – Whiskybase (average from 32 member votes)

Here we have the second release of the Highland Park ‘Saltire’, distilled in 2006 and bottled in 2019. Unlike the first release (distilled 2004, bottled 2018), which was limited to 734 bottles, the second release appears to be going on forever. At the time of writing ‘The Whisky Barrel’ shop are selling a bottle of the ‘Saltire’ 2nd edition for £300 but you can still buy it direct from Highland Park for £55. Auction prices are typically between £40-£50 with the 1st edition getting around the £300 mark.

Both releases of the ‘Saltire’ are 43% but it’s not just the limited number of bottles that make the first edition more expensive. It’s hand-signed by retired Formula 1 racing driver David Coulthard MBE, who Highland Park collaborated with to create the releases. For every bottle sold a percentage of the sale goes to the communities and charities in Dumfries and Galloway where David grew up. The ‘Saltire’ itself references the Scottish flag David had on his racing helmet during his F1 career. It’s a shame it’s not better used in the packaging design, which is rather drab and uninteresting. Speaking of which, the 1st edition has a tube but the 2nd edition is nude, no box, nothing. You can’t expect an extra bit of cardboard for £55, you greedy scamp!

Another thing that seems to be unique about the ‘Saltire’ is that it appears to be the only 13-year-old distillery release that isn’t cask strength. But that rather boring fact is probably only interesting to Highland Park collectors, if even them! The 43% might be a bit wimpy but that’s not stopped 32 voters on Whiskybase giving the 2nd edition a very respectable score of 86.87/100. I certainly supported David Coulthard when he was racing and I enjoy Highland Park whiskies, so getting a bottle of ‘Saltire’ is a win-win for me.

Official tasting notes say to expect caramelised mango, sun-ripened lemons, root ginger, silky vanilla, spicy cinnamon and aromatic smoky peat.

Here’s ‘Whisky Shared’ with his thoughts about the HP Saltire on YouTube (Sept 2020). Please note this is an age-restricted video so you may have to be logged into YouTube to view it:

 

Glen Scotia ‘Campbeltown Harbour’

Bought: Waitrose, 11th November 2019

Ratings:
87/100 – Whisky Bible 2020
81.14/100 – Whiskybase (average from 16 member votes)

As part of Glen Scotia distillery’s revamp they release a non-age statement (NAS) single malt called ‘Double Cask’ in 2015. For £30 it was 46% and matured in 1st fill bourbon & Pedro Ximénez sherry casks. Sounds good? Well I certainly thought so when I tried it. Jim Murray rated it 85.5/100 in his Whisky Bible book and it currently scores 82.1/100 on Whiskybase from 387 votes. Not bad. Not bad at all.

The ‘Double Cask’ left such a good impression on me that when I spotted the new ‘Campbeltown Harbour’ NAS release in 2019 I had to have it, especially reduced to £25 at Waitrose supermarket. It’s matured exclusively in 1st fill bourbon casks and at 40% rather than 46% it’s a different beast entirely to the ‘Double Cask’. You’d think with the lower ABV and less complex maturation that it might be inferior to the ‘Double Cask’ but Jim Murray doesn’t think so in his 2020 ‘Whisky Bible’. He rates the ‘Campbeltown Harbour’ 1.5 points higher than the ‘Double Cask’ and summarises with “this is very flat and far too caramel dependent, though the mix of saltiness and gentle sweetness is highly attractive. The smoke unfurls at the very finish….but for all its easy attractiveness, it is all a little docile and tame”. Not exactly complimentary but 87/100 rates the dram overall as a “very good to excellent whisky, definitely worth buying”. Especially if you can get it on sale for £25!

With only 16 votes on Whiskybase after nearly 2 years, I’m a little suspicious that the ‘Campbeltown Harbour’ had a very limited distribution. Whiskybase only list Waitrose as a supplier in the UK (where I bought it), then two shops in Holland and one in Poland. It’s nice to have found something so exclusive but it means there isn’t a review on YouTube. Comments online about the Glen Scotia ‘Campbeltown Harbour’ include “quite a nice malt for very understandable money”, “kind of tasty, but too little of everything”, and “what a great find, incredibly smooth and bursting with sweet and savoury flavours. Top notch.”

Official tasting notes from Glen Scotia:

Nose: Briny sea spray, perfumed floral notes of violet and lavender and vanilla

Palate: Fruity and sweet. Soft peach and green apple followed by toffee fudge and vanilla custard

Finish: Dry, medium length. Tangy peat complements maritime character

Lossit ‘Classic Selection’ (43%)

Bought: Amazon, 31st July 2020

Ratings:
80.57/100 – Whiskybase (average from 76 member votes)

Given the popularity of Islay whisky it’s not surprising that ‘The Lost Whisky Company’ (TLWC) wanted to add a closed distillery from the island to their range. Lossit was a farm distillery on Islay that operated between 1817 and 1867. There’s an area called Lossit on the west side of the island to this day, and a Lossit Point, Lossit Bay, Lossit Burn….you get the picture. There’s still a lotta Lossit! Where the farm distillery used to be is now part of the Dunlossit estate, with the nearest active distillery being Caol Ila.

As a farm, Lossit was able to use its own barley for the creation of whisky, which was very useful on an island in the first half of the 19th century. The distillery is described as being a founding father of Islay’s legal whisky trade that saw the number of distilleries on the island increase from 6 to 12 (similar number to today) between 1824 and 1830. By 1831 Lossit was the most productive of Islay’s distilleries (over 78,000 litres that year) beating such rivals as Bowmore and Lagavulin. Wimps!

You have to think that the Lossit blended malt created by TLWC takes most, if not all its whisky from Islay distilleries. The official summary of the dram says “the freshness of a Kilchoman Machir Bay and the austere poise of an old Glendullan (with smoke added)”, which sounds quite intriguing. Comments about the Lossit whisky online include “a sweet blend, velvety, but basic too”, “very approachable as it’s peated but also light and sweet with almond and vanilla undertones” and “it was delightfully peaty along with some of that thick sweetness characteristic of a good, young Islay malt”

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Damp oak, earthy peat and a hearty helping of milk chocolate.

Palate: Cigar box, buttered crumpets, sea salt light hints of basil.

Finish: Remains packed with vanilla and peat.

Here’s Whisky Wednesday with their thoughts about the Lossit on YouTube (July 2017):

Highland Park ‘Orkneyinga Legacy’ 12-year-old

Bought: Highland Park Shop, 24th July 2018

Ratings:
87.84/100 – Whiskybase (average from 84 member votes)

This is the first time a single malt has caused me to purchase a book. The Orkneyinga Saga was written around 1200, so over 800 years ago, by an unknown Icelander. The saga covers the history, myth and legend of the earls of Orkney for several hundred years following the conquest of the islands in the 9th century by the kings of Norway. I bought the book ‘Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney’ by Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards. I used the ‘Look Inside’ option on Amazon and the first chapter ‘The road to Norway’ had me hooked. Brothers Nor and Gor went searching for their missing sister Goi. Nor laid claim to the land as he travelled, which he later named Norway. The end. No need for you to buy the book…..except there are another 250 pages! Not bad for less than £7. The whisky on the other hand was a little more expensive at £55 (£61 with postage).

The ‘Orkneyinga Legacy’ 12yo was released in 2018 and is no longer available ‘new’ but bottles can be found at auction for about £45. This is ridiculously cheap considering the rating Orkneyinga gets on Whiskybase. Sometimes you can take scores on Whiskybase with a pinch of salt. There will always be outliers but with over 80 votes a rating becomes more believable. At nearly 88/100 this is by far the best non-cask strength 12yo released by Highland Park in over a decade, possibly this millennium. It scores fractionally more than the standard 18yo! A bottle sold at auction earlier this month for £35. Whoever got it must be over the moon.

Reviewers definitely like the fact Orkneyinga is bottled at 46% and with tasting notes of sweet floral honey, rich fruitcake, warm winter spices, orange zest and aromatic smoky peat it does sound rather nice. Comments online include “easy drinking, very enjoyable HP”, “much nicer than the standard 12yr bottling” and “very drinkable”. One review wonders if the new ‘Ness of Brodgar Legacy’ can keep up the level of Orkneyinga. I’m glad to say I’ve acquired the Ness of Brodgar 12yo and look forward to blogging about it. Yet more Highland Park is not a bad thing!

Caol Ila 18-year-old (unpeated), Diageo Special Releases 2017

Acquired: Birthday Gift, 7th August 2020

Ratings:
96/100 – Whisky Bible 2020
90/100 – Whisky in the 6 (his video review below)
86.52/100 – Whiskybase (average from 174 member votes)

I was delighted to receive this Caol Ila 18yo as a birthday gift. Initially I thought it was the standard 18yo until I saw the 59.8% on the box. Some quick research later and I discovered it was the Diageo special release bottled from 2017. The further away we get from the last millennium the nicer it is to acquire whisky distilled before 2000. It’s pure sentimentality that Millennials and Generation Z wouldn’t understand. Hard to believe such a wonderful single malt from 2017 is still available new in 2020 but it was. No need for an auction site quite yet.

I haven’t added a Caol Ila to my collection for nearly 5 years. I love the distillery but it goes to show how much choice there is out there that it’s been neglected for so long. Of my previous 4 examples of Caol Ila none are unpeated like this 2017 18-year-old. Several reviews either say they detect a hint of peat or the smoke element gives a strong illusion of peat. It’s interesting that Caol Ila can’t shake off what people expect to taste but it’s great that the distillery isn’t scared to strip the peat away. It clearly works, and works well.

Jim Murray, author of the ‘Whisky Bible’, scores this Caol Ila 18yo a fantastic 96/100, which classifies it as a ‘superstar whisky that gives us all a reason to live’. He scores the taste a near-perfect 24.5/25 with the remark “so, so beautiful” and finishes with “this is the way Caol Ila should be: so true to the distillery”. Other comments online include “intense arrival, it maintains a maritime character and has substantial oak to affirm its age”, “an extremely rewarding Islay malt, despite its lack of peat” and “just a superb whisky”. What a lovely birthday gift!

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: At the tasting we attended, “chocolate digestives” was met with universal agreement. Quite creamy with bourbon hints and sliced peaches too.

Palate: Fruitier now, fragrant and concentrated with a little furniture polish. This is complemented by the expected soft caramel and clean seashell character.

Finish: Cake-like with just a hint of smoke (even though this is ‘unpeated’).

Here’s Rob of ‘Whisky in the 6’ on YouTube giving us his thoughts about this special Caol Ila 18yo (Oct 2018):