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):

Dalaruan ‘Classic Selection’ (43%)

Bought: Amazon, 31st July 2020

Ratings:
83.83/100 – Whiskybase (average from 26 member votes)

I first came across ‘The Lost Distillery Company’ (TLDC) in 2014 not long after the company had been founded the previous year. This was before the evils of Brexit when the British pound was strong against the Euro and peaked in 2015 at over 1.40€ to £1 before the moronic referendum. 70cl bottles by TLDC could be bought from Holland for the equivalent of £25 when they were about £35 in the UK. I was tempted but resisted. I wasn’t sure how serious to take vatted malts created to taste like whisky from bygone distilleries. Whose to say how accurate they are. It sounded more like a light-hearted novelty but a tempting one nonetheless.

When in doubt try a sample, dram, or a miniature if you can find one. You can always commit to a full bottle thereafter if the whisky meets with your approval. TLDC have their heads screwed on because they’ve had miniatures of their whisky available for quite a while. For £35.99 from Amazon (£6 each per 5cl) I bought the ‘Discovery Selection’, which included this Dalaruan, along with Lossit, Gerston, Towiemore, Stratheden and Auchnagie.

Dalaruan is an interesting one for fans of Glen Scotia, Kilkerran and Springbank because it was a Campbeltown distillery. You have to think a recreation of Dalaruan will contain a mix of the existing Campbeltown output, much like The Gauldrons by Douglas Laing that I recently acquired (a topic for a future post). TLDC discuss the history of Dalaruan here and mention on the bottle that it ran from 1825 to 1925 but I have other sources that say 1824 to 1922. Not that it makes much odds. It’s not coming back, especially as there’s a housing estate built where the distillery used to be. As a fan of the Campbeltown profile I’ll be interested to see what TLDC have recreated for Dalaruan after nearly 100 years since its closure. I may have to buy a 70cl bottle!

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Earthy/herbaceous peat smoke, paired with juicy orchard fruit.

Palate: The smoke notes become more coastal on the palate. Remains filled with apple and apricot in the background.

Finish: Herbaceous once again, with a touch of sea breeze.

Old Pulteney 2006, 1 litre (Travel Retail)

Bought: World of Whisky, 2nd October 2019

Ratings:
91/100 – Scotch Malt Whisky
83.15/100 – Whiskybase (average from 29 member votes)

In recent years I’ve found it increasing hard to find interesting whisky at airports. The shelves always seem to contain fairly generic, predictable stock, the bulk of which is NAS (no age statement), which suppliers can churn out year after year. If it has an age statement on it like 10yrs, 12yrs, etc., you can probably find it elsewhere. The words ‘travel retail exclusive’ rarely ring true. All these bottles are very reproducible. It was time to find something different. Enter the Old Pulteney (OP) 2006.

Although strictly speaking the OP 2006 is NAS, it’s bottled on the 22nd January 2019. This means it’s a 12yo (unless it was distilled between 1st – 21st Jan 2006, which would make it a 13yo). At just over £50 for 100cl, does this 12yo really hold water against the standard 12yo often sold for £25? Absolutely. Not only is the 2006 unique in comparison because of its stated distillation year but it’s also 46% compared to the 40% of the standard 12yo.

William of ‘Scotch Malt Whisky’ rates the OP 2006 a fantastic 91/100. He criticises some reviewers for underrating this malt and concludes with “this is an outstanding example of a whisky of this age and the cask type used in its maturation”. Other comments online include “an interesting and solid “under the radar” whisky”, “a very good young bourbon malt…..straightforward and simple, but with a dense and rich taste” and “Old Pulteney never let you down, they are always consistent. If you are a fan then this won’t disappoint”.

Highland Park ‘Voyage of the Raven’

Bought: Master of Malt, 23rd February 2018

Ratings:
83.56/100 – Whiskybase (average from 179 member votes)

As it stands in 2020, you can tell if a whisky enthusiast is a collector rather than an investor if they constantly acquire different bottles of Highland Park. It’s never ending! The distillery’s constant output of late has sent investors looking elsewhere, and bottles are taking a long time to sell out online. But if you like drinking HP and/or enjoy having a good HP range in your whisky den, the last few years have been a golden age for HP fans. Some may say they’ve cheapened the brand and that a release for Scottish Ballet is the whisky equivalent of a TV series ‘jumping the shark’ but the reality is, they’re still producing excellent nectar. You can’t go wrong with a bottle of HP, even if it’s wearing a tutu and tempting you to break out the nutcracker.

It’s over two years since ‘Voyage of the Raven’ was released and in general it has been very well received. Over 83.5/100 on Whiskybase from 179 votes is a solid score. It may only be 41.3% and yet another NAS (no-age statement) but it’s clearly HP through and through. Comments online include “beautiful creamy-oily, spicy and sweet sherry HP – very tasty”, “smooth and delicious”, “anyone who knows Highland Park knows what to expect” and “a sherry barrel falls on the Highland Park profile”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Chocolate mousse and black cherry, with a subtle wisp of floral smoke.

Palate: Peat is still in the background, but this expression is very much a showcase of Sherried Highland Park malt.

Finish: Drying Christmas-y spices last on the finish.

Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the Raven on YouTube (Jan 2018):

Old Pulteney 12-year-old (new style from 2018)

Bought: Sainsbury’s, 23rd October 2019

Ratings:
83/100 – Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com – his review below)
81.52/100 – Whiskybase (average from 62 member votes)

Reliable, consistent, born by the sea and a true Scot. But enough about me, let’s talk about the revamped Old Pulteney 12yo (OP12). It’s taken me a while to blog about the new OP12yo because there’s not much to say about it. It’s basically the pre-2018 version in a square box. Nevertheless there will be some people that say the whisky has changed, and indeed in some ways it will always change because of batch variations. But there’s no big difference, really. The OP12 remains true to its coastal Highland roots, with a quality whisky at a very pocket-friendly price.

It seems human nature to say things were better in the past, and you see this quite a lot in the world of whisky. It’s therefore a bit of a surprise that this new version of the OP12 scores 81.5/100 on Whiskybase compared to 80.8/100 (from 820 votes) for the previous version. It’s a marginal difference but surely the new square box isn’t the magic ingredient? Personally I preferred the previous oval-shaped tube. The new presentation is like sticking whisky in a Ford Escort from the 1980s. You might as well give the box some padded shoulders and be done with it.

Comments online include “I was pleasantly surprised by the density and sweet tones”, “this has become my go-to whisky. Such a smooth easy drink. Amazing!”, “very good single malt. Well rounded. Good value as well.” and ,“for the price a great dram every now and then to ground your taste buds”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Honeycomb, vanilla tablet, soft sawdust oakiness and oatcakes.

Palate: Chocolate peanuts, mint, citrus peels, maritime elements and white pepper.

Finish: Toffee, brine and lemon.

Here’s Ralfy with his thoughts about the OP12 (YouTube, Aug 2019):