Bought: Drink Supermarket, 12th June 2017
97.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
78.24/100 – Whiskybase (average from 133 member votes)
Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible, gave his 2016 ‘World Whisky of the Year’ award to the Crown Royal ‘Northern Harvest Rye’ (NHR) but specifically to bottle code L5083 N3. My bottle is code L5098 N5, whatever that means. The 5098 sounds quite close to the 5083 Jim Murray had but the N3 and N5 might refer to completely separate stills. Perhaps still number N5 is in a different building where it only has its pipes cleaned every 6 years and shares the premises with a donkey sanctuary. Don’t ask me, I just drink this shit!
After the award Crown Royal didn’t exactly rush to put their prices up in Canada and the US, although I believe it sold out everywhere for a while. Crown Royal knew the NHR was a $22 blend, and so did their market, which wouldn’t tolerate the stuff if it doubled in price. But in the UK we got massively stung and even 20+ months later it’s hard to find the NHR for less than £100 in whisky shops. Thankfully Drink Supermarket had it for £55, which convinced me it was time to grab a bottle, even though I know it’s unlikely to blow my mind (and it should only be £20!). I haven’t tried Canadian rye so I’m killing two birds with one stone with the NHR when I taste it AND get to denounce Jim Murray as a crackpot.
As I researched this blog post I watched the Whisky Vault’s review of the NHR on YouTube. In it they mention Mark Bylok’s blog (here) where he discusses the big variation across the different releases of NHR. He reviews 4 separate batches and gives them scores of 93/100, 88/100, 82/100 and 78/100. So Jim Murray’s bottle could have been 97.5/100 but my L5098 N5 may only be 60/100, such is the inconsistency across the NHR range. Thankfully most whisky producers try harder than Crown Royal to keep a standard flavour across their batches otherwise reading reviews would be pointless. But in the case of NHR, unless you have the same batch number of the bottle being reviewed, take everything that’s said with a pinch of salt.
Here are the Scotch Test Dummies on YouTube with their thoughts about the Crown Royal NHR, which they reviewed before Jim Murray’s award. Since then a lot of reviews have been tainted by an anti-Murray bias so it’s nice to see an honest summary and an above average rating of 88/100 (Aug 2015). I’m not sure what batch it is though:
Bought: Tesco, 25th May 2017
79.83/100 – Whiskybase (average from 14 member votes)
The Bowmore No.1, new in 2017, replaces the ‘Small Batch’, which appeared in 2014. Both are NAS (no age statement) and matured in bourbon casks so you have to wonder if anyone will notice the difference? The No.1, unlike the Small Batch, is exclusively aged in first-fill bourbon casks, so maturation is quicker. I hope this doesn’t mean the No.1 is younger than the Small Batch, which was young enough!
The Small Batch on Whiskybase ended up with a score of 81.5/100 after 229 votes so the No.1 is lagging behind, although it’s early days yet. Comments on Whiskybase include, “reminds me rather of a strongly diluted mixture of (too) young Laphroaig and Caol Ila” and “the sweet ashes are nothing special but nice. For me this has more than a few mistakes”. At least someone on Amazon says, “wonderful nose you can’t go wrong with Bowmore”, but another comment adds, “spend the extra for the 12yr old. You won’t regret it.” Or get the 9yo if you’re on a budget and prefer a sherry influence instead of bourbon.
Tasting notes from Master of Malt:
Nose: Nutella on brown bread, sea salt and a hint of lemon zest.
Palate: Vanilla notes are up front and sweet (though earthy vanilla pod does appear after a minute). Plenty of coastal peat smoke.
Finish: Lingering smokiness.
Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts on YouTube about the Bowmore No.1 (May 2017):
Bought: Whisky Auction, 24th May 2017
Birth of Prince William, 1982:
82/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)
Queen Elizabeth’s 60th Birthday 1986:
Not rated yet but listed on Whiskybase here.
Bell’s Decanters have arrived in my collection and the men in white coats are coming to take me away. Did I just go insane? But no whisky collection would be complete without one, even if the majority of people consider them to be a bit naff. This is probably why they don’t make much money at auction. I paid £11 for Prince William and £18 for the Queen’s 60th. Empty bottles sell for a similar price on Ebay. It seems weird to say they’re “yesterday’s antique” when they only appeared in the 1980s. Perhaps one day their value will bounce back but there seems to be a lot of them about. It’s time to buy them all up and smash them! Let’s reduce the numbers. I’m sure the royal family won’t mind.
The Bell’s decanter first appeared in the 1920s when it was made from blue glass and designed in a more traditional decanter shape. By the late 1930s the bottle began to take on a more bell-like appearance and was made from porcelain. By the 1950s Royal Doulton, a famous British porcelain manufacturer began making the Bell’s decanter in the brown and gold design seen in Ralfy’s video below. By 1960 Stode had taken over production and then in 1966 it was Wade of Stoke. The Christmas decanters (often seen at auction) began life in 1988, which is also the year the decanters started containing ‘Bell’s Extra Special Blended Scotch Whisky’. Prior to that it wasn’t extra special at all!
Both my examples are royal commemorative decanters, which Bell’s first produced for the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981. This was also the first time that white porcelain had been used and all the stock sold out in a matter of months. Given this fact it’s hardly surprising that Bell’s decided to continue the royal theme with a second decanter release in 1982 for the birthday of Prince William. A 3rd release in 1984 commemorated the birth of Prince Harry and a 4th and 5th release in 1986 marked Queen Elizabeth’s 60th birthday and the wedding of Prince Andrew and Miss Sarah Ferguson. Since then Bell’s have done several more regal releases.
I’ve heard Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com) describe himself as eccentric many times but he always comes across as being quite normal. Nevertheless he sometimes shows eccentricity with his purchases and he’s currently the only person I can find that’s done a review of a Bell’s decanter on YouTube. Here’s Ralfy’s decanter advice from October 2012:
Posted in Bell's
Tagged 1982, 1986, 40%, 43%, 50cl, 60th Birthday, 75cl, Bell's, Blend, British Royal Family, Decanter, NAS, Online Whisky Auction, Porcelain, Prince William, Queen Elizabeth II
Bought: Aberdeen Whisky Shop, 27th March 2017
77/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
79.68/100 – Whiskybase (average from 30 member votes)
You have to give the Speyside Distillery credit for trying. I was very impressed with the presentation of the Spey Tenné and now the Chairman’s Choice brings a very stylish box into the mix AND a scroll! Although I only bought a 20cl the salesman at the Aberdeen Whisky Shop almost convinced me to get the full 70cl based on the packaging alone. If I were buying it as a gift for an occasional drinker with a Speyside preference I would have gone for it, especially at £60. But for drinking something different with my brother I knew the 20cl would suffice. It’s good whisky but not scroll-worthy whisky.
Scoring 77/100 in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible classifies this Speyside Distillery NAS (non-age statement) as “average, and usually pleased but sometimes flawed”. Mr Murray’s review is incredibly brief and consists of “Their Chairman’s choice, maybe. But not mine”. Well that was very informative wasn’t it!
Scoring nearly 80/100 on Whiskybase is a reasonably good mark but nothing special. Comments include “the nose left a bit to be desired, but the palate was okay. Nevertheless, this Spey is a bit of a disappointment”, “not a bad whisky but not really good either” and “a clean and well crafted single malt with a gorgeous nose and a delicate sweet and fruity palate. Easy to drink, not really complex with a relatively one-dimensional finish. A delicate all-day dram.”
Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the Spey Chairman’s Choice (May 2015):
Bought: Whisky Auction, 24th May 2017
87/100 – Whisky Bible 2006
83.71/100 – Whiskybase (average from 9 member votes)
In 2015 a similar bottle of Glenturret 15yo sold at auction for £70, in 2016 for £50 and I got this old malt for £35 in 2017. At the same time the retail value of this bottle has been going up at a similar rate. This is because whisky shops tend to think that all whisky is increasing in value, which simply isn’t true, not if you follow the auction sites. If you want an old bottling of Glenturret than now is the time to buy at auction. If you’ve got an old bottle of this 15yo you’d like to sell then hold onto it because I have a feeling the auction price of this little beauty will bounce back.
When I say “beauty” I am of course referring to the taste not the packaging. In the 1990s Glenturret were going through a phase of asking a colour-blind hamster to design their boxes and labels. Dirty yellow and brown, really?! But what’s inside has gone down extremely well with 9 members of Whiskybase where nearly 84/100 is a fantastic score. One member concludes with “wonderfully balanced with a easygoing flavor palette.”
Although Jim Murray’s score of 87/100 in his Whisky Bible 2006 is a good bit after the 1990s this was a fairly consistent 15yo as it moved across the millennium. Mr Murray’s score classifies this dram as “very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying”. He says about the taste “highly intense malt that sweetens, mildly oily with a hint of oak” and summaries with “a discontinued bottling now: if you see it, it is worth the small investment”. And I couldn’t agree more!
Tasting notes provided on Whiskybase:
Nose: Flowery, sweet and pleasant.
Taste: Soft vanilla notes, light peppery and notes of fruit.
Finish: Pleasantly sharp and soothing.
Bought: Aberdeen Whisky Shop, 30th March 2017
90/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)
When I watch the Whisky Hunter on YouTube I’ve been stunned by how many amazing finds he’s made. It seems that every garage sale or backwater off license in America harbours a classic whisky at a ridiculously low price. Why can’t the UK be the same? It’s possibly because bourbon is the big thing in America and single malts and blends get neglected. More people in the UK want and recognise a vintage whisky so it’s rare to see one languishing on a shop shelf for years.
I found this bottle of Crawford’s 5 Star in the Aberdeen Whisky Shop. They’d recently bought it from a private seller so it hadn’t been sitting on the shelf for long. Priced at £50 I did some research and discovered that bottles can sell at auction for over £100 but also less than £40 depending on age and condition. This particular version dates from the 1980s, which appears to be the last decade the 5 Star was produced, although it might have crept into the 1990s. A whisky auction site says “A & A Crawford was a whisky blender and merchant which established in Leith in 1860, now belonging to Whyte and Mackay’s portfolio. The deluxe 5 Star Blend that was launched in the 1920s, now discontinued, followed the success of the 3 star offering.” The Whisky Exchange are selling a bottle of 5 Star from the 1950s for £350.
I don’t think discovering this bottle of Crawford’s has turned me into a whisky hunter because £50 is probably all it’s worth. The reason I bought it was because of the great reviews it gets for flavour. 90/100 on Whiskybase is a fantastic score, albeit from only 2 member votes. Ben of ‘A Dram A Day’ is also very impressed. Here are his thoughts about the Crawford’s 5 Star on YouTube (Sept 2016):
Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 24th May 2017
This 5-year-old deluxe blended Scotch whisky was bottled for Skibhoul Stores, Sandisons Ltd, on the small island of Unst in Shetland. It might seem like a crazy auction purchase and you’d be absolutely right. My justification is sentimental because the majority of my family come from Shetland. I don’t expect this to be great whisky, and the packaging and label are basic in the extreme but for £13 I’m not complaining. This Unst blend has the same caramel colour and age as the Glen Orchy 5yo from Lidl so if it tastes similar I’ll be very happy. But it will probably get the lemonade treatment as most of my budget blends do.
(Above – Skibhoul Stores, Unst, Shetland)
If Unst sounds familiar it’s because the island is also the location for the Shetland Distillery Company (Saxa Vord distillery) who are destined to be the first whisky distillery in Shetland. They produce a blended whisky but are currently most famous for their Shetland Reel gin. In 2015 they bottled a Glenglassaugh cask after storing it in Shetland for a while so it could be the first single malt from the islands, even though it was distilled elsewhere. It was a bit of a publicity stunt but I fell for it and got a bottle. Well I had to, didn’t I!
According to online company records Sandisons Ltd began life in 2006 so the blend for the Unst store isn’t very old even if the packaging belongs in the 1970s. Scoring 4.5/5 from 22 reviews on Trip Advisor the Skibhoul Stores are highly thought of by locals and visitors alike:
Whisky collections all deserve a few obscure bottles and this is certainly one of mine!
Bought: Waitrose, 13th May 2017
78/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
78.22/100 – Whiskybase (average from 400 member votes)
I would never have bought the Macallan Amber if I hadn’t thought I’d secured a bottle of Ruby on Amazon. Unfortunately 3 months after I’d placed my order Amazon deleted it but by then I’d bought the Amber to go with the Gold thinking I’d only need the Sienna to complete the ‘colour’ set. Since it now seems impossible to get the discontinued Ruby for less than £200, which puts it out of my reach, will I bother getting the Sienna? Hmmm.
So I’m stuck with the Amber. Just as well I’m a fan of the Macallan profile in whatever form because the Amber has rarely done well in reviews. 78/100 from Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible 2015 classifies the Amber as “average, and usually pleasant though sometimes flawed”. In fairness his review is quite favourable, “the texture alone shows this should be something truly special. The first few moments of delivery likewise, with its astonishing Locket’s honey filling; honey is the unambiguous theme throughout. But the tangy presence of a few sub-standard sherry butts undermine some great work in the lab. I suspect the next bottling might be a corker.” Unfortunately we’ll never know because the review disappeared in 2016 and hasn’t reappeared since. Perhaps Mr Murray hasn’t retried the Amber, or he didn’t consider it worth another sip.
78.22/100 on Whiskybase is a so-so score bordering on ‘below average’ but the Gold scores an almost identical 78.19/100. As an experienced Macallan drinker I like the Gold and Jim Murray scores it 89.5/100. The Sienna, the next colour up in the series from the Amber, scores over 84/100 on Whiskybase so it’s considered a significant step up in quality. I’m still tempted to get the Sienna because several reviews have suggested it’s better than the Ruby and the best colour in the series. Comments on Whiskybase about the Amber include “Not bad this. It had quite a bit more flavour to it than the Gold, and was on the whole quite pleasant. It had quite a bit of bitterness and spiciness to it but in a refreshing kind of way.” And “Barely a step up from the Gold. A little more flavour but largely wood tannins and acetone.”
Tasting notes from Master of Malt (where it scores 3/5 stars from 31 votes):
Nose: Soft aromatic vanilla, lemon and barley with hints of ginger. Milk chocolate buttons and hints of Sun-Maid Raisins.
Palate: Surprisingly thick and fruity compared to the nose. Golden sultanas, dates, apple peelings and a dusting of cinnamon. Cereal notes on the mid-palate, joined by mince pies with crumbly shortbread.
Finish: Fragrant oak finish, with the mince pie notes lingering.
Here’s Jack Oughton with his thoughts on YouTube about the Macallan Amber (January 2015):
Bought: The Whisky Exchange, 11th May 2017
86.82/100 – Whiskybase (average from 64 member votes)
Highland Park have obviously decided it was time for a change and 2017 sees the start of a new design for their label and packaging across their core range and the new ‘Valkyrie’. And I love it! Unfortunately it makes the old bottles look rather plain and dated, like having a modern car sitting beside a Ford Granada. But the old design has been kicking around for about 10 years and was clearly in need of an update. The new look pushes further towards Orkney’s Nordic ancestry, and the nipped-in waist of the bottle suggests many hours in the gym working on those obliques!
The Valkyrie replaces the ‘Dark Origins’ and begins a series of 3 new bottles to appear over the next 3 years. Already the Valkyrie is over 2 points ahead of the Dark Origins on Whiskybase, which is very impressive. Comments for the Valkyrie include, “quite weird HP with heavily peated. I like it. The weakness is the finish.” And “Not a bad HP after all, very mineral with a rather short finish.” But someone on ‘Master of Malt’ says “lingering finish” where the Valkyrie scores 4/5 stars from 6 reviews. On ‘The Whisky Exchange’ it scores 5/5 stars from 6 reviews with comments of “a fantastic rounded dram” and “near perfection”.
Although some reviewers find the Valkyrie underwhelming (especially the finish), the majority are very impressed with this new offering from Highland Park. With 250,000 bottles and a reasonable price tag of £55, it’s a good start for a new series, which will include Valknut and Valhalla in 2018 and 2019.
Tasting notes from ‘Master of Malt’:
Nose: Chocolate and some nutmeg off the bat before the smoke develops, balanced by dried apricot, plum and, increasingly, zesty orange too.
Palate: Plump dried fruits are complimented by vanilla, dried apple and waves of smoke and wood spice.
Finish: Liquorice and more fruit too, plus a return of some chocolatey notes.
Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts on YouTube about the Highland Park Valkyrie (June 2017):
Bought: Morrisons, 8th May 2017
82.33/100 – Whiskybase (average from 3 member votes)
You can tell that the whisky industry is booming when distilleries primarily used for blending start producing single malts. We had the Tamnavulin ‘Double Cask’ last year and now the Glenallachie ‘Distillery Edition’. Both appeared in UK supermarkets and were instantly discounted from their RRP of £32 (which they’re not worth) to the low £20s. Both are NAS (no-age statement) but in fairness to the Glenallachie it’s doing better than the Tamnavulin with regards to reviews. 82.33/100 on Whiskybase is an extremely good mark, albeit from only 3 votes so far.
The ‘Distillery Edition’ is doing equally well over on Master of Malt with 4.5/5 stars from 2 votes. Comments include “definitely found my new dram” and “the nose for me is a spirity flapjack, a palate of spicy apples with a warm long lasting finish. A smooth tasting treat!”
Tasting notes from Master of Malt:
Nose: Caramel-dipped apples and pears, with hints of brown sugar and digestive biscuits.
Palate: Oodles of vanilla, with a zesty kick of fresh citrus at the centre.
Finish: Fruity esters last long on the finish.
There are no specific YouTube reviews yet for the Glenallachie ‘Distillery Edition’ but here is Ben of ‘A Dram A Day’ covering the distillery’s history before reviewing another example of Glenallachie single malt: