Auchnagie ‘Classic Selection’ (43%)

Bought: Master of Malt, 17th March 2020

Ratings:

78.27/100 – Whiskybase (average from 28 member votes)

Auchnagie is the sixth and final example in my ‘Classic Selection’ from The Lost Distillery Company (TLDC). The only one I’m missing from the seven lost distilleries TLDC have reproduced is the Jericho.

Auchnagie distillery ran for almost 100 years from 1812 to 1911. During that time it had seven different owners and was closed for lengthy periods. The distillery itself was located in the hamlet of Tulliemet, in the Ballinluig area of Perthshire, 6 miles south-east of Pitlochry, which makes it a Highland distillery. Peat used in production came from the nearby Loch Broom. This natural resource had been formed from moss and heather, which gave off a delicate floral note when fired. The final owners, who acquired the distillery on a long lease in 1890, were John Dewar & Sons. They went on to build Aberfeldy distillery in 1896-98. The potential of this new distillery is probably one of the reasons why John Dewar & Sons closed Auchnagie for good in 1911.

Scoring just over 78/100 on Whiskybase, the Auchnagie gets the lowest mark of all seven of the ‘Classic Selection’ by TLDC. Nevertheless, the three reviewers on Amazon give it 4.7/5 and seem to like it a lot. Comments online include, “a nice, easy / light starter for a tasting line-up – or otherwise an aperitif whisky”, “probably the best I’ve tasted from the TLDC line”, “I thought it was wonderful with an early full flavor of cedar ending with vanilla” and “a great dram at this price”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Digestive biscuit, banana and thick waves of honey.

Palate: Sponge cake (with yet more honey), rice pudding, dried apricot.

Finish: A subtle lick of baking spice appears on the finish.

Here’s Whiskey Vault with their thoughts about the Auchnagie on YouTube, December 2018:

Highland Park ‘Valfather’

Bought: Master of Malt, 17th March 2020

Ratings:

84.27/100 – Whiskybase (average from 162 member votes)

The Highland Park (HP) ‘Valfather’ is the third and final bottle of the ‘Viking Legend’ series, which kicked off with the Valkyrie in 2017, then the Valknut in 2018. Valfather makes reference to the Norse god Odin. His strength is reflected in the extra peatiness of the Valfather, which has been a highlight of this whisky for a number of reviewers. Presented at 47% with natural colour, you have to feel that HP kept the best for last.

Danish designer Jim Lyngvild provided his artistic skills for the presentation of the Viking Legend series. Did you know that Jim Lyngvild appeared on the TV show ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ in 2009? No, neither did I but it’s on his Wikipedia page. Apparently he’s known for his ability to eat things very quickly, which has earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records. If this skill also includes drinking, perhaps it’s best to keep him away from the Highland Park distillery!

Valfather’s score of 84.27/100 on Whiskybase is very good. It’s slightly less than the Valknut (85/100) but slightly more than the Valkyrie (83.7). Comments for the Valfather include “I was disappointed with the nose but give it a moment then wow”, “the flavours are intense yet amazingly balanced” and “smokey notes, fruity after taste with hints of vanilla, what’s not to like!”. Valfather also scores an excellent 4.7/5 stars on Amazon from 211 reviewers, although a lot of the 5 star reviews say “I gave it to a friend and they’re still speaking to me”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Robust, but refined smoke fills the nose initially followed by delicate vanilla, Conference pears, green apple skins and a heady, heavy floral richness. Underneath there’s cedarwood, honeycomb, spice from black pepper and nutmeg, as well as salted caramel before the heathery peat makes itself known. A sprightly sea breeze note emerges with time.

Palate: Simultaneously huge and yet elegant, the palate is beautifully integrated. Layers of creamy vanilla, apricot yoghurt and a helping of crème brûlée interplay with notes of incense burners, iron and salted almonds. Then there’s bitter orange marmalade, charred wood and dried earth among touches of cacao powder, toffee apples and smoked paprika.

Finish: Long and confident. The floral smoke lingers for an age but is offset by tropical fruit and black pepper.

Here’s Ben and Horst Luening with their thoughts about the HP Valfather on YouTube, August 2019:

Dalmunach 3-year-old, 2016, Aberdeen Whisky Shop Exclusive

Bought: Aberdeen Whisky Shop, 21st May 2020

Ratings:

85/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)

Dalmunach is one of the newest distilleries on the Scottish whisky scene that’s owned by a big players in the industry, Pernod Ricard (Chivas Brothers). The ultra-modern distillery was built in 2014 on the site of the former Imperial distillery (also owned by Pernod Ricard), which was demolished in 2013 simply because it wasn’t economical to be refurbished. Dalmunach distillery is in Speyside not far from the Dailuaine distillery. The name ‘Dalmunach’ comes from a nearby pool on the River Spey.

In August 2019 I spotted on a whisky forum that 4-year-old bottles from the new Dalmunach distillery were now on sale as part of ‘The Distillery Reserve Collection’. Unfortunately this bottle was only available in distillery shops belonging to Pernod Ricard. As fortune would have it I was intending to visit one of these, the Strathisla distillery in Keith but not until October. Before making plans I contacted the distillery to ask about the Dalmunach bottle but sadly they’d sold out. At 64.5% it was going to be hot but a nice chance to try something new. Currently this bottle scores 82.1/100 on Whiskybase from 11 member votes.

I had to wait until May 2020 before getting my next chance to claim a bottle of Dalmunach, this time from the Aberdeen Whisky Shop. This exclusive release was put together by the independent bottler Duncan Taylor as part of their ‘The Octave’ series. Of the 22 releases of Dalmunach listed on Whiskybase, 15 of them have come from Duncan Taylor, 14 of which as part of ‘The Octave’ range. As the name suggests, the whisky has had its final phase of maturation in a smaller octave cask (in this case ex-sherry) to “enhance its hue, taste, form and character”.

The majority of ‘The Octave’ releases score in the mid 80s out of 100, which goes to validate Duncan Taylor’s 40+ years of experience of small cask maturation. For my 3-year-old example (5 months spent in an octave cask) a review says “needs more ageing” but adds “looking forward to trying older Dalmunach in the future”. Most definitely!

Stratheden ‘Classic Selection’ (43%) – (aka Auchtermuchty)

Bought: Amazon, 31st July 2020

Ratings:

79.82/100 – Whiskybase (average from 21 member votes)

When my blog falls silent for weeks or months at a time it’s usually because my next whisky to write about doesn’t inspire me. Stratheden is my fifth example from The Lost Distillery Company (TLDC). I’m beginning to wish I’d put all 6 miniatures into one blog rather than writing about them individually. But each whisky has its own merits, and they’re meant to represent flavour profiles from long-dead distilleries by mixing malts that exist today. It’s a hard task to do and TLCD should be applauded for their efforts. I, on the other hand, deserve a slap for my procrastination.

Stratheden distillery was founded in 1829 in the centre of Auchtermuchty, a wee village in Fife in the lowlands of Scotland (current population is just over 2,000). If you ask any Scot what their 3 favourite places in Scotland are to pronounce, almost all will include Auchtermuchty. It’s just a great word to say. Go on, say it! When you reach a ‘ch’ you have to sound like you’re clearing your throat. If you say it 5 times you need to gargle with a dram to recover. Sadly the distillery closed in 1926 when Prohibition in the US removing the distillery’s biggest market but it had been struggling for quite a number of years before that. A great lost to Auchtermuchty, as well as throat lozenge salesmen.

This Stratheden blended malt gets two 5 star reviews on Amazon, which isn’t a great deal of interest but it’s better than none at all. Reaching nearly 80/100 on Whiskybase from 21 votes is a reasonable score. Comments online include “very pleasant whisky with a long taste in the mouth and a super pleasant sensation of light smoke”, “not a complex whisky, but it has an interesting taste at a reasonable price” and “an easy drinkable fresh whisky”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Old oak furniture, juicy orange and a touch of vibrant pineapple.

Palate: Rounded oak once again, with caramel and salted popcorn in support.

Finish: Slightly smokey, though fruit notes still sit at the core.

Here’s Whisky Vault with their review of the Stratheden (YouTube, Oct 2018):

Dalmore ‘King Alexander III’

Bought: The Whisky World, 28th August 2020

Ratings:

86/100 – Whisky Bible 2020

85.75/100 – Whiskybase (average from 14 member votes)

I recently had a significant birthday and I wanted to buy myself a special whisky to mark the occasion. Browsing around online I spotted a good discount on the Dalmore ‘King Alexander III’. Over the years I’ve only heard good things about this Dalmore, which is remarkable because it’s NAS (no-age statement), chill-filtered, 40% and laced with Dalmore’s famous E150 colourant. On the surface this whisky ought to be mediocre at best until research reveals it’s a work of art. Richard Paterson, Dalmore’s Master Distiller, took whisky matured in 6 different casks (wine, Madeira, Sherry, Marsala, Port & Kentucky bourbon) and managed to harmonise them into something quite magical. In blending terms he almost did the impossible.

With the King Alex III firmly in my sights I had a look on YouTube for recent reviews. Scotch 4 Dummies started in 2015 and their ninth video in October of that year discussed this Dalmore. It was their first perfect score from all four of them. 5 years later they reviewed it again (below) and, to their surprise and mine, King Alex III got another perfect score. I’ve watched their videos many times and they’re usually pretty critical. Whiskies I’ve thought were perfect have been marked down. And after 5 years of trying other whiskies, to then give the same incredible mark to this Dalmore is amazing. I was sold!

Jim Murray’s score of 86/100 in his book ‘Whisky Bible’ dates back to 2009. Yes, seriously. Normally I wouldn’t include such an out-of-date review but, according to the Scotch 4 Dummies, the quality hasn’t changed in 5 years so why not 11! Mr Murray summaries with “starts brightly with all kinds of barley sugar, fruit and decent age and oak combinations, plus some excellent spice prickle. So far so good…and obviously thoughtfully and complexly structured. But then vanishes without trace on finish.” You have to think that 46% would have helped in that respect but I’m biting my tongue here. Other comments online include “interesting whisky and pleasant to drink” and “a masterclass of cask selection and blending skill” but there are quite a few references to the dram feeling ‘hollow’ and ‘thin’ with numerous remarks about the short finish.

The Dalmore ‘King Alexander III’ is clearly not a whisky for beginners. It’s hard enough contemplating how to bring 6 different cask maturations together let alone noise and taste them. But with so many whisky ‘experts’ berating NAS, colourant, chill-filtration and 40%, their influence can make it very easy, even for experienced whisky drinkers, to pre-judge this Dalmore. Perhaps my best option is to try it in a blind tasting. Whatever the outcome, I’m pleased to add this legendary bottle to my collection.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Malty and utterly Dalmore. Seville orange zest, Parfait Amour, malty cereal, barley and chocolate. Creamy vanilla fudge, tropical fruit with a vaguely vinous quality.

Palate: Medium, rounded. Winter berries, spice, zesty orange. Liqueurs emerge; Grand Marnier, kirsch and Frangelico.

Finish: Peppery with well-integrated oak and the claret makes a last minute appearance.

Here’s Scotch 4 Dummies with their second review of the Dalmore King Alexander III (YouTube, March 2020):

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):