Bought: World of Whisky, 2nd October 2019
85.6/100 – Whiskybase (average from 133 member votes)
At the time of writing this blog the UK is into its third week of lockdown due to the Coronavirus. I bought this ‘Travel Exclusive’ bottle of Lagavulin from Heathrow Airport during better times in October 2019. If you go onto the ‘World Duty Free’ website and search for “whisky” you’ll find 22 bottles. This used to be about 250. Heathrow’s website doesn’t include ‘World Duty Free’ in their list of open stores and the company’s website doesn’t offer an online shop as an alternative. Perhaps that’s something they need to look into to keep themselves afloat. I’m sure there will be a ‘World Duty Free’ business at airports after life returns to normal but it might not have the same owners, or the same stock. This Lagavulin 10yo could be more ‘exclusive’ than first thought.
If there’s one thing that Lagavulin do well it’s whisky. This might seem like a strange thing to say but Highland Park make fridge magnets and they’re rubbish! The Lagavulin 16yo is what got me back into whisky in 2013 so I’ve always had a soft spot for the Islay distillery. I was tempted by the Lagavulin 9yo ‘Game of Thrones’ edition but at over £60 the bottle was clearly overpriced to fleece fans of the TV series (I’ve never watched it). At £40 the Lagavulin 10yo seemed much more sensible and properly priced compared to the 16yo.
According to Whiskybase there’s not much between the Lagavulin 9yo and 10yo with scores of 85.7/100 and 85.6/100 respectively. The 9yo edges it but that’s probably because it’s 46% rather than the 43% of the 10yo. Nevertheless both are excellent scores. Comparing the 10yo with other Islay single malts of the same age we have:
- 86/100 – Ardbeg ‘Ten’
- 85.6/100 – Lagavulin 10yo
- 85.1/100 – Bruichladdich ‘The Laddie Ten’
- 83.2/100 – Laphroaig 10yo
Clearly this new Lagavulin can hold its own against other Islay 10-year-olds. Comments online agree saying “complexity while being highly drinkable”, “successful malt” and “great sippin whisky – tends towards the 16 but more crisp and lively and with quite some power despite the 43%”.
Here are the official tasting notes from Lagavulin:
Nose: mild and lightly drying. An elusive fruity tang introduces clear, fresh and cleansing top notes, with peat smoke and maritime hints of sea breezes and seaweed.
Taste: light and smooth. The taste starts sweet and salty, then heat builds in waves of glorious smoke.
Finish: still smoky, with real depth of taste and a warming spiciness
Here’s Whisky Whims with their thoughts about the Lagavulin 10yo on YouTube (Sept 2019):
Bought: World of Whisky, 1st November 2018
82/100 – Whiskybase (average from 75 member votes)
I’ve had this 1-litre ‘Travel Retail Exclusive’ bottle of Glendronach since it first appeared towards the end of 2018 but I’ve not blogged about it until now for a couple of reasons. Firstly I was hoping someone might add a good video review on YouTube but that’s not happened yet. Secondly rumour has it that Travel Retail ‘exclusives’ only remain exclusive for one year before other shops can start to sell them. This would help with more reviews, tasting notes, etc. Unfortunately this doesn’t appear to be the case with the Glendronach ‘Forgue’. It seems that, much like the Kilchoman ‘Coull Point’, Travel Retail have bought up all the stock of the Forgue and are keeping it to themselves.
When I started collecting whisky in 2013 Glendronach was one of the great recovery stories. The distillery was mothballed between 1996 and 2002 but in 2008 it was acquired by the BenRiach Distillery Company who rejuvenated it with some fantastic releases. The Glendronach 15yo ‘Revival’ distilled before 1996 will probably always be a classic. Sadly interest in the distillery among general whisky buyers maybe waning with only the single cask releases getting the limelight. I can’t say I’m surprised because the bottle presentation hasn’t changed in over 10 years and is looking tired and dated. Time for another revamp Glendronach!
I’ve sometimes referred to the Glendronach as the ‘poor man’s Macallan’ so it makes sense to compare this 10yo with the last example of the Macallan 10yo ‘Sherry Oak’. The Forgue fairs quite well with 82/100 on Whiskybase compared with the Macallan’s 83.2/100 (from 336 votes). The Glendronach gets comments of “fair in price…..a delicious dram”, “it’s perfectly alright” and “enjoyable dram, some nice aroma’s and flavours, though it’s not very mindblowing, just pretty subtle”. Hardly brilliant remarks but probably fair. It’s a 10-year-old after all.
Official tasting notes:
Nose: A dance of Seville blood orange and cherry, with ripe barley, roast chestnuts and winter-spiced cocoa.
Taste: Sweet Valencia orange and Morello cherries, with rolling waves of ripe barley. As the flavour deepens, savour dark currants, praline toffee and earthy brambles.
Finish: A richly satisfying, lingering finish of orange-laced tobacco and ground nutmeg.
Bought: Highland Park Shop, 22nd September 2018
85.22/100 – Whiskybase (average from 29 member votes)
As Highland Park (HP) say on their website the first release of ‘The Dolphins’ was a request to create an “officially licensed product for sale in the bars and shops at the The Royal Navy’s Faslane base in Scotland” by the Royal Navy Submarine Service. So this was effectively a private release and not on general sale. I believe this was in 2017 as The Dolphins started to drift onto auction sites in December of that year. Being rare and difficult to find bottles were making over £300.
During the first half of 2018 The Dolphins were consistently making £250 at auction, peaking at £400 in June. Then in September HP put the bottle on general sale from their online shop for £40. People refer to it as the second release but there’s nothing on the label to say that it’s any difference from the private version from 2017. Even the barcode is the same. And I strongly suspect that the shops at the naval base were selling the first release at the £40 mark. But there is a difference between the shape of the bottles between the first and second releases (the first is straight) and the first release has “Estd 1798” on either side of the HP logo, which is missing from the second release. But I bet the whisky inside both versions is very much the same.
The first release of The Dolphins scores a respectable 83.85/100 from 48 votes on Whiskybase but the second release scores slightly better with 85.22/100 from 29 votes. A similar low budget NAS (no-age statement) HP called ‘Viking Tribe’ scores 82.5/100 from 20 votes and that’s 46% compares to The Dolphins’ 40%.
With official tasting notes including vanilla, bananas, light peat, lemon peel, white pepper and toasted oak, The Dolphins sounds quite appealing. The second release has sold out on the HP website and if it doesn’t return we’ll probably see prices at auction start to increase again but not back to the heady heights of £400.
Here’s The Malt Chronicles doing a comparison between two Highland Park no-age statement releases, The Dolphins and Viking Tribe (March 2019):
Bought: Aberdeen Whisky Shop, 26th June 2019
4.5/5 stars – Amazon (from 18 reviews)
80.56/100 – Whiskybase (average from 61 member votes – 70cl)
In June 2019 I found myself in the Aberdeen Whisky Shop on a quest for a bottle of Islay blended malt by Berry Bros & Rudd (BBR). My search was successful (a future blog) but I also spotted a selection of 10cl bottles by Glenrothes. This Speyside distillery was acquired by BBR in 2010 and in 2018 they released the ‘Soleo Collection’ with age statements of 10, 12, 18 and 25 years and a non-age statement called ‘Whisky Maker’s Cut’. I opted for the 12yo as it offered a bit more maturity than the 10yo and costing £10 it didn’t reduce my wallet to tears.
In the YouTube review below by Chris Goodrum I was quite pleased to hear him say “raw” and “hard” but he added that this is the character of the distillery. Yes it is. The Glenrothes ‘Select Reserve’ was all those things but it gets a mention in Ian Buxton’s book ‘101 Whiskies To Try Before You Die’ because he felt it represented the house style of the distillery. Glenrothes can be a bit of a love/hate whisky for a lot of dramsters but if you like a quintessential Speysider with characterful roughness then it’s worth spending some time with this malt. Its neighbour, The Macallan, might be the lord of the manor but the Glenrothes is the gritty gamekeeper that likes to roll around in the grass and get his tartan troosers dirty.
As the ‘soleo’ name suggests, we’re looking at sherry matured single malts in this new range from Glenrothes. The 12yo scores a respectable 80.56/100 on Whiskybase and reviews elsewhere online are very good. Comments include “smooth, creamy vanilla. Beautifully balanced. Definite keeper”, “a great malt”, “very modern and yet unmistakably Glenrothes” and “a delicious well rounded single malt”.
Tasting notes on Amazon:
Nose: Light fragrance, banana and vanilla
Taste: Banana, lemon and melon with a hint of cinnamon
Finish: Long and sweet, galia melon light spice
Here’s ‘The Good Dram Show’ with their thoughts about the Glenrothes 12yo at 15m 47s on YouTube, which are honest and not altogether complimentary (Nov 2018):
Bought: Aberdeen Football Club shop, 5th November 2018
None I can find.
It’s been over a year since I bought this single malt from the Aberdeen FC shop and in that time it’s become quite controversial. The club, founded in 1903, and known as ‘The Dons’ since c.1909, decided to register the ‘Dons Dram’ as a trademark. The drinks company Sandeman objected because they produce ‘Don Fino’ sherry and consider ‘DON’ to be a name associated with them. For some strange reason they thought a whisky from a Scottish football club would cause confusion in the marketplace with their products. Really? Are they that insecure? In March 2019 the UK Intellectual Property Office, who rule on trademark disputes, found in favour of Sandeman. Aberdeen FC were forced to pay £1,500 in legal costs. Damn! That money could have bought another defender!
There are a number of newspapers that reported this incident at the end of March 2019 and you’d be forgive for thinking it was an early April Fools joke such is the stupidity of the story. The football club have never to my knowledge advertised the whisky on their online store. You can only purchase it by visiting their shop in Aberdeen. It doesn’t sit on a shelf beside bottles of ‘Don Fino’ sherry resulting in confusion and screams of complaint from customers. Most of the newspaper reports incorrectly show a picture of an old version of the ‘Dons Dram’, which was a blend produced by the Bennachie Scotch Whisky Co., Inverurie. The latest ‘Dons Dram’ is a single malt sourced by Own Label Co., Edinburgh.
Even if there will never be another ‘Dons Dram’ whisky it’s doubtful that this will make my bottle collectable. Generally speaking whisky that’s selected for football clubs are cheap and cheerful, which keeps their prices low at auction. And for the ‘Dons Dram’ it is a true mystery malt where the source distillery isn’t know, so that wont help its value (but I’d like to think it’s a Macallan!).
The reason of course for getting the ‘Dons Dram’ is to celebrate the best football team in Scotland. There are those who would say that being managed by Sir Alex Ferguson is enough to earn Aberdeen this accolade. There are many reports that proclaim Sir Alex as the greatest football manager in the world but it doesn’t end there for the Dons. They’re the only Scottish club to win two European honours, which is proudly indicated by two stars above the club logo. But what about the Glasgow teams I hear you ask? Well, Partick Thistle and Queens Park are reasonable but not a patch on Aberdeen Football Club. The Dons have no equal. I’ll drink to that!
Bought: Inverurie Whisky Shop, 12th April 2019
90/100 – Ralfy (www.ralfy.com) – his video below
83.82/100 – Whiskybase (average from 387 member votes) – 83.36 for 5cl
I hadn’t intended to get the Glenallachie 12yo until I found myself putting in a whisky order and realising it was available as a miniature. Ralfy on his famous YouTube channel had named it his whisky of 2019 in January of said year based on his 2018 bottling. It’s curious that this version only scored 83.82/100 on Whiskybase but since Ralfy’s review the 2019 release is over 85/100. I strongly suspect some ratings have been influenced by the great man. Hardly surprising since he now has over 125,000 subscribers.
The Glenallachie ‘Distillery Edition’, which came out in UK supermarkets in 2017, seems like a long time ago now. The styling was boring and uninspired but initial reviews suggested the whisky inside had potential. The change in presentation in 2018 was very impressive, which included a good range of aged whiskies. I’ve frequently found myself hovering over the “buy now” button for the Glenallachie 10yo cask strength, which at c.£55 isn’t a bank breaker for such an excellent dram. One day!
As for my 12yo the score on Whiskybase along with Ralfy’s thoughts suggest a very rewarding single malt. Comments include “there are no shortcuts to quality, and this malt is ticking all the boxes”, “for me the best product of the new range”, “beautiful intensive sweet and fruity malt with interesting aromas and a nice nose” and “honest and decent whisky”. What more can you ask for? 70cl instead of 5cl perhaps?
Here’s Ralfy with his thoughts about the Glenallachie 12yo on YouTube (Jan 2019). Another YouTuber, ‘Whisky In The 6’ even made a 1-hour video about this dram where he includes in the title “why Ralfy was right”.
Bought: Whisky Auction, 4th June 2019
88/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)
I almost feel like apologising to Lombard, the independent bottler of this fine Aberlour 25yo from 1970. In 6 years of collecting whisky I’d never heard of them. Have you? But according to their website they’ve been involved in the whisky scene for 5 decades and a family history in the drinks business dating back nearly 300 years. Lombard also have 118 different whiskies listed on Whiskybase so they’ve clearly been selling whisky somewhere. But where? Their website doesn’t list any stockists, UK or otherwise, and the Lombard Facebook page hasn’t been updated since September 2017.
Perhaps the reason why Lombard have slipped under my malty radar is because they rarely do single malt, which is my main interest. The Isle of Man based business do several blended whiskies including ‘Old Master’, ‘Ballaglass’, ‘Driftwood’ and ‘Anchor Bay’, which are all currently in stock on Master of Malt. An out-of-stock blend called ‘Storm’ scored 94/100 in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2013. Lombard are clearly not amateurs in the world of whisky bottling, which is very reassuring when spending a small fortune on one of their vintage bottles at auction.
I must admit, when I saw this Aberlour 25yo at auction I was a bit concerned about the pristine nature of a bottle that had been originally sold in 1995/6. I’d also never seen it at auction until this year. Now bottles were appearing in several auctions in a row and sometimes more than one bottle at a time, and always in mint condition. Thankfully Whiskybase has enough photos showing examples of Lombard whisky to reassure me that these bottles aren’t fake. But where have they been hiding for over 20 years? Perhaps Lombard themselves have found old stock or a private individual bought a case when they were new and has finally decided to sell them off. Whatever the reason, I’m glad to have this gem in my collection.
The Whisky Exchange are currently selling a bottle of this Aberlour for £299 (half this price at auction) where they say, “A twist on Aberlour’s usual character from indie bottler Lombard’s Jewels of Scotland. Rather than going with the distillery’s more typical sherry-cask maturation, this whisky slept for 25 years in a bourbon casks. The result is a more elegant dram, with the distillery’s rich and malty character front and centre.”
I suspect this will be my last 1970 bottle to celebrate my birth year. Do you have one for yours?
Bought: Amazon, 17th January 2019
4.3/5 stars – Amazon (from 75 customer reviews)
83.08/100 – Whiskybase (average from 16 member votes)
The Highland Park ‘Viking Tribe’ is a single malt from the famous Orkney distillery, exclusively available from Amazon UK. The Highland Park (HP) website describe the flavour as ‘sweet vanilla, zesty citrus, peppery spices and aromatic peat smoke’. Sounds like the sort of whisky that no sideboard should be without. It might not have an age statement but its robust 46% makes the recommended sale price of £43 a bit easier to swallow. Thankfully since its arrival in 2018 there have been regular Amazon reductions to £30 and free delivery. Unfortunately there’s no presentation box but that seems to be quite common for HP bottles under £50-60.
Scoring 83/100 on Whiskybase is a pretty good score but only from 16 votes. 4.3/5 (equivalent to 86/100) is a bit better on Amazon but it probably levels out about the same when you remove the 5 star ratings with comments like “bought this for a friend/partner who didn’t spit it out, so it must be good”. But most reviews are from people who drank it and include comments of “tasted amazing”, “it’s characterful and very satisfying” and “a very nice whisky that I would have no qualms in recommending”. On the flip-side there were several remarks that the Viking Tribe was harsh, young and underwhelming. A number of people felt it was only worth buying when reduced to £30 or less. Hardly surprising when the 12yo is still getting discounted to £25 in some supermarkets. But the Viking Tribe is yet another new HP on the market from the popular distillery, which is all fans need to make a purchase. I certainly did!
Tasting notes from Highland Park (Nov 2018):
Bought: Whisky Auction, 31st July 2018
82.33/100 – Whiskybase (average from 12 member votes)
If Dr Who arrived in the Tardis and begged me to become their sexy assistant, after I stopped laughing I’d ask to go back to 2013. I’d want to tell my former self, at the starting of my whisky addiction, to buy a bottle distilled in my year of birth. I would make this suggestion to anyone who wants to collect whisky because the longer you leave it the more expensive it becomes. Dr Who would probably tell me that meeting myself would cause a rift in the space-time continuum so I’d grab their sonic screwdriver and shove it up their arse. That’s an episode you wont be seeing on the BBC!
I might not be as old as Dr Who but being born in 1970 means that finding a good whisky from back then doesn’t come cheap. Auctions are the best place to look but over the last few years I’ve missed out on several bottles that are now too expensive for me to consider. But one bottle that has remained quite reasonable is the Glen Grant 5-year-old distilled in 1970. This is due to its lack of maturity but ratings suggest that it’s a very acceptable dram.
The earliest example of this 5yo I can find on Whiskybase was distilled in 1962, so bottled in c.1967. The latest example was distilled in 1988 thus bottled in the early 1990s. So this series ran for just over 25 years (c.1967-1993). A lot of the bottles found on the UK auction scene today are market ‘Seagram Italia’ or ‘Giovinetti’ Import, as the bottles have found their way over from Italy where this 5-year-old had a strong market.
The Glen Grant 5yo, without a distillation date, is still available on the Italian market today where a 70cl bottle at 40% will set you back a mere €13. Apparently it’s the best selling single malt in Italy where it’s been thriving for decades.
Serge of Whiskyfun reviews the earliest Glen Grant 5yo from 1967 but only rates it 68/100 and believes age has taken its toll on the bottle he sampled. Serge then reviews a 1968 version, which he rates very highly with 86/100. Although there’s no reviews of my 1970 Glen Grant, a mark of 82.33/100 on Whiskybase is a very strong score. Serge noticed an unexpected peatiness to the 1968 version and wondered if this was due to the problems on Islay that caused the likes of Brora to produce peaty whisky on the mainland. Did Glen Grant do the same? The peaty production at Brora drifted into the early 1970s so when I finally crack open my Glen Grant I’ll be interested to see what I can detect in the flavour. I’m hoping the liquid has held its form like the ’68 and not the ’67 that Serge tried. But when a whisky is this old you can never be sure what to expect. The same can sometimes be said about me!
Bought: Tesco Supermarket, 3rd June 2019
Ratings for ‘Land Cask’:
81/100 – Whiskybase (average from 5 member votes)
92/100 – Scotch Malt Whisky
Ratings for ‘Sea Cask’:
76.17/100 – Whiskybase (average from 8 member votes)
89/100 – Scotch Malt Whisky
In 2018 Tesco Supermarket here in the UK decided to stock two ‘mystery’ single malts under the name of Aerstone. These are the ‘Land Cask’ and ‘Sea Cask’. They come with an age statement of 10 years and a volume of 40%. It’s not uncommon for supermarkets to have their own single malts but usually they’re labelled ‘ASDA’s Islay Single Malt’ or ‘Sainsbury’s Speyside Single Malt’. It’s unusually for a supermarket to register a trading name for a mystery whisky (where the source distillery isn’t clearly indicated). This is all very interesting but it was the price of £20 that caught my attention (reduced from £30). This made Aerstone the cheapest 10yo single malt on the market, even when the Aberlour 10yo is on offer. And considerably cheaper than the MacPhail’s 10yo mystery malt. Tesco, you have a winner!
The Aerstone duo aren’t really mystery malts in the traditional sense. Firstly it’s common knowledge that the source distillery is Girvan, owned by William Grant & Sons. Secondly a mystery malt typically comes from an established single malt distillery and Girvan is better known for producing grain whisky. Nevertheless since 2007 the Girvan complex has incorporated the Ailsa Bay distillery, which has been releasing single malt since 2016. With the Aerstone being 10 years old it’s possible that one or both of the cask types started life as Aisla Bay, which isn’t a bad thing.
It should come as no surprise that the Land Cask is doing better than the Sea Cask in reviews because peat and smoke make it more interesting. But both malts are considered to be easy going, straightforward sippers. Yes they contain E150 colourant and 40% seems quite tame these days but at £20 you can’t expect the earth to move. Both whiskies get excellent scores from William over on the Scotch Malt Whisky website and 81/100 on Whiskybase for the Land Cask is a pretty decent mark.
Overall I’d say that Tesco’s request to William Grant & Sons to give their customers two single malts that showcase the different profiles from different areas of maturation has been a success. And you can’t grumble at the price!
Here’s The Whisky Family with their thoughts on the Aerstone duo on Youtube (Oct 2018):
Posted in Aerstone (Tesco)
Tagged 10yo, 40%, 70cl, Aerstone, Ailsa Bay, Girvan, Land Cask, Lowland, Lowlands, Sea Cask, Single Malt, Tesco