Co-op Highland 12-year-old (Dalmore)

Bought: Co-op Foods, 9th November 2017

The Co-operative chain of shops has been selling a 12-year-old Highland single malt for many years. Although the source distillery is a mystery there are some clues that point firmly at Dalmore. A whisky forum discussion in 2012 said the packaging mentions ‘The Black Isle’, which is synonymous with Dalmore. It was also said that Richard Patterson, who is the master blender for Whyte & Mackay, who own Dalmore, blended the dram. Another clue is the use of lots of colorant. Love it or hate it, Dalmore use a lot of E150.

In 2016 into 2017 the packaging for the Co-op 12yo changed but it still mentions ‘The Black Isle’, although strictly speaking this could also apply to the Glen Ord and Teaninich distilleries. There’s no mention of Richard Patterson but the colouring still screams ‘Dalmore’ (favourite dram of Oompa Loompas to maintain their complexion). It’s not going to be the same as the Dalmore 12yo, which is part-finished in 30-year-old Gonzalez Byass Matusalem oloroso sherry casks, but at half the price the Co-op 12yo is worth seeking out.

For an online review in 2015 Cambridge Wine Blogger says, “a golden, mahogany toffee colour, it has a complex nose of citrus, sandalwood and roasted spices; cooked mixed fruit, pastry shop, sweet vanilla and complex dark sherry flavours. Warming, assertive and persistent.” And concludes with, “good value and very good.”

Here’s Tropical Scot with his review of the Co-op Highland 12-year-old on YouTube (Jan 2017):

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Aberlour A’bunadh Batch 59

Bought: Waitrose, 18th October 2017

Ratings:
87.52/100 – Whiskybase (from 23 member votes)

Aberlour distillery first introduced the A’bunadh (meaning ‘the origin’) back in 1997 so 2017 marked 20 years of this delectable dram. Each batch is cask strength at around 60% and is a single malt blended from barrels aged between 5 and 25 years. From the batches I’ve tried over the years I’ve never detected young whisky in the mix in a negative way. Whoever blends the A’bunadh at Aberlour distillery certainly knows how to combine young and old spirit for best effect. The A’bunadh is exclusively matured in Spanish oak from Oloroso sherry butts and is bottled without being chill filtered or having additional colouring. This is natural sherried Speyside single malt at its very best.

All whisky collectors have regrets and one of mine is deciding not to buy an A’bunadh batch 28 or 29 in 2014. A shop in Holland I was using had them for €89. It seemed too expensive at the time but bottles are now fetching over £120 at auctions today. The earliest batch I’ve tried is No.45 and I saved a 10cl sample of it for posterity. I feel like I’ve missed out on the evolution of the A’bunadh. But according to reviews it’s not as if the earlier batches were better than the most recent releases. The whole point behind the A’bunadh was to replicate an old bottle of Aberlour from 1898, which was discovered at the distillery in 1975. So batch 1 should in theory be very similar in taste and quality to batch 60. But everyone will have their favourite and specific tasting notes vary from batch to batch.

Scoring over 87/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score but very typical for an A’bunadh. If you have batch 59, and you enjoy good sherry-bomb malt, you wont be disappointed!

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Dark chocolate and raisins, with underlying vanilla-rich malt persisting.
Palate: Coffee and walnut cake, blackcurrant squash, mince pie crust and ground clove.
Finish: Beeswax and honey, damson jam, black pepper, nutmeg and digestive biscuits.

Eagle Rare 10-year-old

Bought: Amazon, 16th June 2017

Ratings:
89/100 – Whisky Bible 2018
9.5/10 – Whisky Wednesday (video review below)
83.52/100 – Whiskybase (from 112 member votes)

The Eagle Rare 10yo produced by Buffalo Trace Distillery is probably the most accessible age-statement bourbon available in the UK. It’s matured in charred American white oak barrels and bottled at a very reasonable 45%. I got my bottle from Amazon but it’s also available from Waitrose supermarket and various online stores.

Jim Murray scores the Eagle Rare 10yo 89/100 in his Whisky Bible, which classifies it as “very good to excellent whiskey definitely worth buying”. His review was added in 2012 so it’s a bit out of date but other reviews suggest standards have remained high. Mr Murray says of the taste “early oils as expected, then a surprising change of gear towards a rye-Demerara mix which firms and then moves towards a much spicier, kumquat inclined middle than the nose suggests”. He summarises with “a surprising trip this with some dramatic changes en route”.

Scoring over 83/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score especially from over 100 votes. On Amazon this bourbon racks up an excellent 4.8/5 from 77 reviews. Comments online include “a wonderful, sweet and very quaffable bourbon”, “with some air, this bourbon reveals some if its inner qualities, namely the floral fragrance on top of its usual virgin oak blasts”, “one of the nicest bottles of bourbon I’ve ever drunk” and “so smooth and full of flavour”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Toasted oak gives way to flamed orange peel and maple syrup.
Palate: Honey, buttered bread, oily walnuts and a touch of red fruit.
Finish: Vanilla, oak spice and a little bit of old leather.

Here’s Jo of Whisky Wednesday with his video review of the Eagle Rare 10yo (Sept 2015), which he scores an outstanding 9.5/10:

Glen Ord 12-year-old (100cl)

Bought: Online Auction, 5th October 2017

Ratings:
85.65/100 – Whiskybase (from 8 member votes)
78/100 – Malt Maniacs (from 4 maniac votes)

This 40% Glen Ord 12yo was introduced in the mid 1990s (according to Malt Maniacs) and superseded in c.2005 by a square bottle version at a more potent 43%. I’ve wanted this distillery bottling of Glen Ord for a while because it was a classic of its day. There is certainly plenty of it about because it regularly appears in UK auctions where bottles make a modest £30-£60. The square bottle arguably contains better whisky than the earlier version from the 1990s but I was delighted to win this 100cl 40% for £42. After auction costs £55 doesn’t seem much for a whisky discontinued over 10 years ago and possibly bottled over 20 years ago. The whisky inside could have been distilled in the 1980s.

Scoring over 85/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score, albeit only from 8 member votes. Someone leaves the comment, “quite a good and complex dram for its age. A good bottling from the past.” The 70cl version listed on Whiskybase was bottled in 2003 and scores a more modest 81/100 from 64 votes. Comments include “much better than I was expecting, not exciting or anything but easy to drink”, “just ok, certainly not offensive and even positively cordial”, and “this one goes excellent with a good coffee, a lovely malt from a nice distillery”.

Serge Valentin, one of the Malt Maniacs, scores the Glen Ord 12yo 76/100 with the comment “the new one in the rectangular bottle is much better, but this old version is rather amiable, after all”. The picture of his bottle shows it came with a square box, which is probably the early presentation from the mid 1990s. I suspect my 100cl with the round tube is from 2000+. Serge Valentin’s review can be found here.

Here’s Ben of ‘A Dram A Day’ with a history of the Glen Ord distillery and his thoughts on the square bottle of the 12yo:

Glendronach 8-year-old The Hielan’

Bought: Aberdeen Whisky Shop, 14th September 2017

Ratings:
82/100 – Whisky Bible 2018
82.53/100 – Whiskybase (from 242 member votes)
87/100 – Ralfy (his video review below)

The Hielan’ (meaning ‘highland’) is the Glendronach distillery’s entry-level malt with a youthful age of 8 years. It’s still possible to find it for under £30 but its price is creeping up. I bought a miniature in a ‘tri’ pack along with the 12yo and 18yo. I’ll probably regret not getting the 70cl when I taste it because it sounds delicious, and the rejuvenated Glendronach is one of my favourite distilleries.

The Hielan’ gets a very similar mark in both the Whisky Bible and on Whiskybase. The Bible author Jim Murray says, “intense malt. But doesn’t quite feel as happy with the oil on show as it might”. 82/100 classifies the Hielan’ as “good whisky worth trying”. Mr Murray scores the 12yo ‘Original’ 86.5/100.

82.5/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score with comments of “simple GlenDronach, not very interesting. In this price category the 12 ‘Original’ is a better choice.” It’s a fair point because there isn’t a big enough price difference between the 8yo and 12yo Glendronach in most shops. The 12yo scores 83.8/100 on Whiskybase but Ralfy (YouTube video below) gives 87/100 to both the 8yo Hielan’ and 12yo ‘Original’. Clearly there’s not much in it.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Honey’d malt, vanilla fudge and citrus peels. Slightly chocolate-y raisin notes and a little cinnamon.
Palate: More spice comes through on the palate, but the vanilla-rich buttery elements remain up front. Freshly baked biscuits topped with almonds and plump sultanas.
Finish: Quite long, with Sherried fruit and ginger lasting.

Ralfy’s review on YouTube (August 2017):

Kinclaith 1967 (Gordon & MacPhail)

Bought: Online Auction, 5th October 2017

Ratings:
85/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)
72/100 – Malt Maniacs (for 70cl 1993 version)

Kinclaith wasn’t a distillery in its own right as it was constructed in the grounds of the Strathclyde grain distillery in Glasgow, which makes it a Lowland whisky. Founded in 1957 Kinclaith was closed in 1975 and subsequently demolished. In its short 18-year life Kinclaith was used for blending (primarily in Long John) and never officially sold as single malt. Whiskybase only list 5 independent bottlers releasing Kinclaith as a single malt with Cadenhead starting in 1985 with a 20-year-old. If you have a spare €2,000 you can buy this bottle from a shop in Germany. Hmmm, perhaps not!

Whiskybase list the last independent bottling of Kinclaith by ‘The Whisky Talker’ in 2010, some 7 years ago. That’s hardly surprising since it’s over 40 years since Kinclaith ceased to be. Are there any casks left unopened I wonder? My 5cl by Gordon & MacPhail (G&M) was probably bottled in 1993 (as per the 70cl, making it 25/26yo) but there isn’t a code confirming this on the back of the bottle’s label. There was also a 70cl G&M bottle released in 1991. I’ve wanted a miniature Kinclaith by G&M for years but I’ve never see one with a good neck level. My bottle (pictured below) has liquid up to the shoulders, which is as good as it gets. At least it’s enough to provide a taste of this rare Lowland gem.

Tasting notes and comment from Whiskybase (translated from German):

Nose: Light oak, some water mint, hair spray, old copper coins, dried, tropical fruits (pineapple, papaya, apricot), Werther’s original, Grand Marnier, cotton candy and some burnt caramel. With time and air, the whiskey opens up and becomes more fruity and finer.
Taste: Sweetish and slightly creamy with lots of malt and light vanilla. In addition there are bright fruits and some lemon. Then becoming pepperier. Light tannins, a bit orange bitter and a hint of bitters. At the end, the bitter oak occupies the entire mouth.
Finish: Medium in the middle, woody, slightly bitter and with a fine malty sweetness. In between, the tropical fruits flash out of the nose. At the end some milk coffee.
Comments: Old-school Malt! I would have thought the Lowlander to be much easier because of its geographical origin. The tropical fruits are great, but cannot prevail over the bitter oak. This is also a bit too bitter and too dominant for me.

Highland Park ‘Saint Magnus’ 12-year-old (2010)

Bought: Online Auction, 5th October 2017

Ratings:
76.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2013
89/100 – Serge Valentin (www.whiskyfun.com)
86.5/100 – Whiskybase (average from 225 member votes)

Highland Park ‘Saint Magnus’ 12yo was a distillery release in 2010 and was the second edition from the Inga Saga trilogy. The Saint Magnus label isn’t new to Highland Park as I’ve seen bottle examples using it in the 1960s. The Inga Saga trio consisted of:

  • Earl Magnus 15yo, 2009, 5,976 bottles, 52.6%
  • Saint Magnus 12yo, 2010, 11,994 bottles, 55%
  • Earl Haakon 18yo, 2011, 3,300 bottles, 54.9%

When the Saint Magnus 12yo appeared in 2010 it was priced at €100. Some felt it was expensive for what it was but €100 for a similar release in 2017 would seem quite reasonable. The presentation is very good and I like the sturdy wooden display case. An equivalent Highland Park costing €100 today would be the Sigurd, which comes in a solid wooden box but it’s NAS (non-age statement), widely available and only 43%.

Jim Murray’s review of the Saint Magnus in his Whisky Bible 2013 is a bit of an outlier especially when compared to 89/100 from Serge Valentin of Whisky Fun. Mr Murray simply says “tight and bitter” and 76.5/100 classifies this dram as “average and usually pleasant though sometimes flawed”. Serge Valentin only uses the word ‘bitter’ with regards to ‘bitter oranges’ in the taste but I don’t get the impression this is a negative remark. He says “the cinnamon is really big” and, “with water: now it’s really excellent, with a great earthiness”. I’m a big fan of cinnamon so this sounds good to me!

Scoring over 86.5/100 on Whiskybase is a very good mark. Comments include “great malt”, “shows the potential of the distillery” and “one of the most interesting malts that HP has brought to market in recent years” (written in 2016). I’m left thinking that Jim Murray had a tainted sample because his low rating of the Saint Magnus is in the minority.

Highland Park ‘Dragon Legend’

Bought: Tesco, 22nd September 2017

Ratings:
85.41/100 – Whiskybase (average from 19 member votes)

When Highland Park met ‘Game of Thrones’ the ‘Dragon Legend’ was born. It’s like when Harry met Sally but with more fire breathing and less fake orgasm. Highland Park claim ‘Dragon Legend’ has got something to do with Vikings but we can all see through the thin façade. Clearly someone at the distillery’s marketing department loves heraldic, Valhalla, Lord of the Rings fantasies. The Hobbister release in 2016 even had the word ‘Hobbit’ in it! I rest my case.

But, marketing aside, the new Dragon Legend is scoring very well on Whiskybase. Over 85/100 is an excellent mark, especially when compared to similarly priced NAS (no age statement) bottles from Highland Park such as the Einar (80.3/100) and Svein (81.4/100). Comments on Whiskybase about the Dragon Legend include “more full-bodied, sherried and peaty than the Valkyrie, but less fruity”, “better than the standard 12YO and IMO better than the Valkyrie” and “there’s certainly enough complexity and distillery character to be able to recommend this whisky at its £40 price tag”. Tesco have even had it on offer at £30 – wow!

Here’s Martin Markvardsen, senior brand ambassador for Highland Park, giving us the tasting notes for the Dragon Legend (October 2017):

Glen Moray ‘Elgin Classic’ (2014 on)

Bought: Morrisons, 11th September 2017

Ratings:
77.34/100 – Whiskybase (average from 34 member votes)
81/100 – Malt Box (video below)

I must confess I haven’t finished my bottle of Glen Moray ‘Elgin Classic’ from 2013 but when Morrisons supermarket reduced this newer version to £16 I couldn’t resist. It might be NAS (no age statement) but the distillery isn’t a mystery and it can hold its own for flavour against whiskies at double the price. I love this stuff, even if I haven’t had many occasions to finish its predecessor. The best time to drink it is when you fancy a dram but you don’t have time to give it a lot of attention. Perhaps when watching a movie or sharing it with someone who likes a whisky but isn’t a connoisseur.

Scoring just over 77/100 on Whiskybase might not sound like a great score but it’s over a point ahead of the previous version, which scores 76/100 from 51 votes. Comments online include “a very drinkable single malt at a fair price”, “young and quite harsh”, “it’s entirely acceptable to the average palate and even the Whisky expert would probably find it not without merit” and “I enjoy its crisp citrus and lemony flavours on ice with a splash of water”. Ice? Why not! It’s not as if you’ll be losing the complexity by chilling your taste buds. Several people consider the Glen Moray ‘Elgin Classic’ to be a very refreshing summer dram.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Light, fresh. Grist. Nutty, floral. Dried grass. Slightly fruity.
Palate: Oak, gentle. Well balanced, walnut, grist. Citrus, lemon sponge.
Finish: Tangy citrus, spicy fruitcake.

Here’s Andy from ‘Malt Box’ with his thoughts about this Glen Moray (Sept 2017):

Bladnoch ‘Samsara’ 200th Anniversary

Bought: Master of Malt, 4th September 2017

Ratings:
82.7/100 – Whiskybase (average from 9 member votes)

Bladnoch distillery celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2017 and the new owner (David Prior) decided to release 3 commemorative bottles, the Samsara (NAS), Adela 15yo and Talia 25yo. Unfortunately they weren’t new because they’d already been released in 2016. The only clear difference I can see is that the re-release in 2017 now had “Celebrating 200 years” at the bottom of the bottle label. I gave my wife a food blender for our 24th wedding anniversary last year and I gave her the same blender this year with “happy 25th anniversary!” on it. I’m now single. I jest of course. 🙂

It was mostly this lazy attempt to celebrate Bladnoch’s 200th birthday that caused me to delay getting the Samsara. Not that it was likely to sell out because demand for the distillery seems quite low. Although the Samsara is NAS (non-age statement) it’s said to be over 8-years-old as the last spirit distilled at the distillery was in 2008. The 2016 release scored 79/100 on Whiskybase from 30 member votes so 82.7/100 for the 2017 is a clear improvement. Although both are 46.7% (a good strength) the 2017 version is matured in Californian red wine and bourbon casks. Maturation isn’t mentioned for the 2016 edition, so perhaps there’s a difference there. If nothing else the Samsara 2017 could have 9-year-old whisky as a base instead of the 8-year-old for the 2016 release.

So why did I get the Samsara? Having bought bottles to celebrate 200 years of Lagavulin and Laphroaig it didn’t seem right not to support Bladnoch and its ‘rebirth’ (the meaning of the word ‘Samsara’). Not only that but reviews have improved for the Samsara and for just over £60 this 8yo+ comes in a beautiful decanter-style bottle and sturdy display box. Both reviews left on Master of Malt consider the Samsara to be good value for money although I notice the price has increased to over £70. Tut tut!

Tasting notes from Bladnoch:

Nose: Quite concentrated, fruit compote, with plums, vanilla and orange blossom.
Palate: A sweet winey start, then drying slightly before more plums and vanilla flavours, some citrus and a malty core. Nicely structured.
Finish: Mellow and winey with a spicy, lingering tail.

Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts on YouTube (July 2017):