Category Archives: Scottish Single Malts

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 Ornkeyinga. 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):

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):

Lagavulin 10-year-old

Bought: World of Whisky, 2nd October 2019

Ratings:
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):

Glendronach 10-year-old ‘The Forgue’

Bought: World of Whisky, 1st November 2018

Ratings:
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.

Highland Park ‘The Dolphins’ (2nd release – 2018)

Bought: Highland Park Shop, 22nd September 2018

Ratings:
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):

Glenrothes 12-year-old 10cl (Soleo Collection)

Bought: Aberdeen Whisky Shop, 26th June 2019

Ratings:
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):

Dons Dram, Aberdeen Football Club (FC) Single Malt

Bought: Aberdeen Football Club shop, 5th November 2018

Ratings:
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!