Category Archives: Scottish Single Malts

Highland Park 14yo ‘Loyalty of the Wolf’ (35cl)

Bought: World of Whisky, 1st November 2018

Ratings:
85.67/100 – Whiskybase (average from 3 member votes)
87/100 – Whisky Wise (YouTube review below)

The Whiskybase rating above is for the 35cl bottle, which I have. The 100cl scores over 2 points less with 83.36/100, purely because it has more votes (currently 35). Over 83/100 is still a good score but perhaps not as high as a 14yo from Highland Park (HP) from 10 years ago would score. Why? Because more and more people are having their view of HP tainted by the number of releases the distillery is flooding onto the market.

Like most HP fans I’m a member of the Inner Circle. Never a week goes by without an email from the distillery that talks about another new standard release, or limited release, or special release ‘connected with a celebrity that’s drunk as much HP as David Beckham had drunk Haig before they offered him lots of money to endorse is”.

Rightly or wrongly the over-commercialising of HP is causing increasing criticism of the distillery on Facebook groups and internet forums. And the less you think of a distillery the less you enjoy their whisky, even if the spirit hasn’t changed, such is the influence of emotions on our sense of taste.

HP may not be able to rely on the loyalty of all their fans but at least they’ve got a wolf to fall back on. On the plus side this 14yo from the new 2018 Travel Retail range has an age statement, unlike its predecessors Svein, Einar and Harald. Matured in sherry-seasoned American oak and ex-bourbon casks the distillery classify this dram as “sweet and complex”. Comments online are mostly positive and include “marvellous tipple” and “it’s not a sophisticated dram to ponder too much upon, but a very nice, enjoyable and care free evening sipper”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Toasted bread with marmalade, red apple, some punchy peat hints.

Palate: Barley, thyme honey and more marmalade. Smoke lingers in the background. Some Christmas spices give it heat.

Finish: Pecan, dry peat and cinnamon sticks.

Here’s Jason of Whisky Wise with his thoughts about this whisky on YouTube, which he likens to the old HP 15yo (Sept 2018):

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Strathearn – Private Cask Club, Cask 005

Bought: Online auction, 8th October 2018

Ratings:
Listed on Whiskybase here but no rating as yet.

Strathearn is another relatively new distillery, which has the claim to fame of the smallest in Scotland. It’s certainly the only one I’ve seen described as a ‘micro’ distillery. Situated in the southern highlands, Strathearn got planning permission at the start of 2013 and on the 18th October of that year the first cask was filled. The bottle of single malt I purchased at auction was distilled 12 days later on the 30th October and placed in cask no.005. Production comes from 2 stills – an 800 litre wash and a 400 litre charge. Rather than use the industry standard 200 litre barrels Strathearn have opted for the 50 litre ‘octave’. Hardly surprising since a typical spirit run is only 100 litres.

Strathearn use their own maris otter barley in the whisky making process. Well it is a farm after all. Initially they distilled into American oak and French oak barrels but recent releases have young spirit maturing in mulberry, chestnut and even peated acacia wood casks. By early 2017 Strathearn had withdrawn 12 products because of issues with the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association). Thankfully this doesn’t seem to be holding them back with their experimenting. Long may that continue!

Towards the end of 2016 Strathearn’s inaugural release was done by auction through Whisky Auctioneer. I followed it with interest but even the cheapest bottle at £315 was about £200 more than I would have considered paying, especially at 50cl rather than 70cl. Bottle no.1 went for a staggering £4,150. Interestingly the pictures of the bottles on the auction site had a blank space where the cask number should go. You would assume it was cask no.001 but the distilling date was 11th December 2013, nearly 2 months after the first barrel was filled. I can only assume this is because all the early casks were bought by the distillery’s ‘Private Cask Club’. My bottle from cask no.005 is the earliest example of distilling from Strathearn that I’ve seen on the market.

After the inaugural release it seemed the only way to own a bottle of Strathearn was by being a Private Cask Club member or finding a bottle at auction. By 2018 (if not 2017) Strathearn made a bottle of single malt available from their online shop but at £145 for 50cl it was still a bit steep. Thankfully more private casks were being bottled and appearing at auction where a typical price was £65-£80 for 70cl. Time to make a purchase!

The good thing about using smaller barrels is that there is a bigger surface to surface ratio between spirit and wood compared to a bigger barrel. This might not necessarily make the spirit taste older than its years if it comes from a smaller cask than the industry standard but it can influence the taste. My bottle is less than 4 years old but the spirit has drawn an amazing colour from the French oak, along with an augmented flavour:

Nose: Very fruity with spices (cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg), hint of pepper, honey and some citrus.

Taste: The sweetness and spices come through with a creamy fruit yoghurt at play in the background. Elements of the French oak wood become clearer, which were hinted at in the nose.

Finish: A good length with a pleasant warmth of after-spices and almost a floral tinge.

Glasgow Distillery Co. ‘1770’ – First Release

Bought: Glasgow Distillery Co, 8th June 2018

Ratings:
87.62/100 – Whiskybase (average from 15 member votes)

It’s always nice to see another whisky distillery popping up but you have to wonder if this trend will damage the industry in the long run. But perhaps the modern customer will lean towards the new arrivals and it will be old distilleries that end up suffering. It wouldn’t take much for a cut-throat company like Diageo to close one of its many locations if they thought they weren’t profitable enough. And don’t get me started on the potential impact of Brexit! Time to pour a dram.

The Glasgow Distillery Co. was established in 2014 and proudly claims to be the first single malt whisky distillery in the city since 1902. As they waited for their whisky to mature they produced a gin they named ‘Makar’ in one of their 3 stills. And to kick-start their name in the whisky world they bottled and sold a mystery Speyside single malt they named ‘Prometheus’. Initially a 26yr, then 27yr, their latest edition is a 28yr priced at a ridiculous £699. Seriously?

In 2018 the Glasgow Distillery Co. announced a ballot for a limited release of 5,000 bottles of their first ever single malt named ‘1770’. Hardly memorable but they probably looked at the stupid names other distilleries were inventing and decided that a number would be safer. 1770 was the year Beethoven and William Wordsworth were born but what that has to do with Glasgow whisky I don’t know. Regardless, £100 for a 50cl bottle of 3yr whisky hardly felt like a bargain. I also didn’t realise when I paid for a bottle in June that I’d have to wait nearly 5 months before it would arrive. Perhaps some of the £100 was to cover the cost of oats for the blind donkey delivery my bottle. But it’s all worth it for a taste of history! Honest!

The good news is that the 1770, matured in first-fill bourbon casks and finished in virgin oak, has been well liked since its arrival. Scoring nearly 88/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score and the distillery have announced another release during 2019.

Tasting notes left on Whiskybase:

Nose: Floral. Waxy fruits, especially pears and apples. Honey, lacquered wood and touch of saffron.

Taste: Dried and baked fruits, caramel, orange peel, pepper and touch of gum.

Finish: Medium length, spicy, sweet.

Glendronach 21-year-old ‘Parliament’

Bought: Amazon, 6th April 2018

Ratings:
76/100 – Whisky Bible 2018
85/100 – Whiskyfun
89.58/100 – Whiskybase (average from 21 member votes)
96/100 and 91/100 – Scotch Test Dummies (YouYube video below)

In the Whisky Bible 2016 author Jim Murray’s rating of the Glendronach 21yo was a fantastic 91.5/100 and ended with “Memorable stuff”. In the 2017 issue of the Bible the 21yo had disappeared and in 2018 Mr Murray introduces his thoughts on the 21yo ‘Parliament’. All around him the status of Glendronach has been rising but he gives the 21yo a lowly score of 76/100 and remarks, “myopically one dimensional, rambles on and on, sulphur-tongued, bitter and does its best to leave a bad taste in the mouth whilst misrepresenting its magnificent land.” It’s worth noting that the 2017 Bible contained reviews of 27 different bottles of Glendronach but in 2018 that’s shrunk by more than half to 13. Perhaps Mr Murray has fallen out of love with this up-and-coming Highland distillery, because of the whisky or maybe something else entirely.

I’m reminded of the old joke ‘opinions are like arseholes – everyone has one’. But arseholes are generally very similar, whereas opinions can vary greatly. Mr Murray’s thoughts about the Glendronach 21yo are like a square peg in a round hole of shared opinion, if you pardon the mental image. I’ve found it impossible to discover anyone else who dislikes this whisky as much as he does. Most people adore it, which makes me wonder if Mr Murray had a bad sample. There are certainly lots of different batches of the ‘Parliament’. Mine was bottled on the 29th January 2018 so after the Whisky Bible 2018 went into print. Although Mr Murray’s opinion about the 21yo is a bit strange I respect him enough to breath a sigh of relief that it wasn’t directed at my batch.

89.58/100 on Whiskybase for my particular release of the Parliament is a fantastic score but quite typical of all the batches of this 21yo. A comment about the flavour says “elegant, expensive leathery notes, more olorosso built up on palate for boldness, spicy sherry coat with ample of creamy sugar laden of fruits.” Whiskyfun score the Parliament 85/100 in August 2017 with the comment “rather fine, just not too complex. And quite easy on the fruits”.

Here’s the Scotch Test Dummies with their review about the Glendronach 21yo on YouTube (Feb 2018) both of whom love this dram:

Aberlour ‘Casg Annamh’ Batch 0001

Bought: World of Whisky, 28th June 2018

Ratings:
84.55/100 – Whiskybase (average from 119 member votes)

The Aberlour ‘Casg Annamh’ (meaning ‘rare cask’) first appeared at the end of 2017. About 6 months later the legendary Aberlour A’bunadh almost doubled in price causing fans to froth at the mouth and swear allegiance to the likes of the Glenfarclas 105. Some quarters felt that the Casg Annamh had been introduced to replace the A’bunadh but this was mostly based on both whiskies having a batch number. A year after the launch of the Casg Annamh and it’s still only on Batch 0001. The A’bunadh has had 62 releases in 21 years, quite typically 3 or 4 releases per year in recent years (but only two in 2018, perhaps due to the price increase reducing sales). The big difference between the Casg Annamh and A’bunadh is the strength. The Casg Annamh is fixed at 48% and the A’bunadh is cask strength around 60%. Basically they’re two different beasts.

So how has the Casg Annamh done in its first year? 84.5/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score. It’s doing better than the standard Aberlour 16yo (83.2/100), which costs about £15 more than the Casg Annamh. By the time you get to the Aberlour 18yo (85.5/100) it’s over £80 so you might as well buy the A’bunadh. Comments online about the Casg Annamh include, “enjoyed this more than A’bunadh. Whereas A’bunadh is a whisky disguised by sherry, Casg Annamh is a whisky featuring sherry without covering up the other flavours within”, “it contains considerably younger whisky than the 15YO, but makes up for that by a higher level of first fill and a higher ABV” and “an excellent value dram which won’t disappoint any sherry cask enthusiast”.

You have to feel this new Aberlour has found its place in the market. Currently £60 for a litre at certain airports it’s good value for what it is. But after a year of ‘batch 1’ it’s definitely not a ‘rare cask’ as the Gaelic name implies.

Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the Aberlour ‘Casg Annamh’ on YouTube (May 2018):

Daftmill 11yo 2006 ‘Summer Batch Release’ (700th post)

Bought: Berry Bros & Rudd, 31st July 2018

Ratings:
87.28/100 – Whiskybase (average from 60 member votes)

For my 700th blog post I wanted to add sometimes special, and Daftmill distillery came to my rescue. When I started getting interested in whisky in 2013 Daftmill had been distilling spirit for 8 years but nothing had been released from the lowland distillery. Surely something would appear soon? But we had to wait until 2018 before the 12-year-old inaugural release hit the market. I can’t remember exactly how much it was advertised for (£300?) but the 629 bottles sold out very quickly. Formed from 3 barrels it had a cask strength of 55.8% and scores a very respectable 86.3/100 on Whiskybase from 37 votes.

In July 2018 the second release from Daftmill arrived at a more pocket-friendly £95. This ‘summer batch release’ was formed from 7 barrels and limited to 1665 bottles. According to Berry Bros & Rudd I got the last bottle they had in stock. The reverse label says, “distilled and filled in the summer of 2006, these ex-Bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill in Kentucky have waited patiently in the bottom storey of Warehouse No 1 for nearly 12 years”. The only thing daft about this release is that some shops are now listing it as £799. The current auction value is about £180.

Although diluted down to 46% my summer release from Daftmill scores a point more on Whiskybase than the older and stronger inaugural release. People really love this stuff, which must be very encouraging for the Cuthbert family who own and operate the distillery at their farm in Fife. Comments about the taste mention lemon zest, peaches, honey, shortbread, spices, fresh marzipan, mint, key lime pie, tangy oranges, greengages, toffee and a youthful floral complexity. Sounds delicious!

I can only find two YouTube videos about Daftmill distillery, both of which take a tour with the owner Francis Cuthbert in 2010. He’s interviewed by Charles MacLean for SingleMaltTv and then by Ralfy who gets to nose a 4-year-old barrel of spirit. Ralfy likened the aroma to the former lowland distillery Linlithgow, which Francis thought was a fair comparison. A comment on Whiskybase feels the summer release resembles Rosebank, so you get the impression that Daftmill whisky has fantastic lowland pedigree.

When you research Daftmill distillery on the internet it soon becomes clear how generous the owner Francis Cuthbert is with his time. He has given numerous people a tour of his facilities even though I don’t believe the distillery is officially open to the public. It’s a working farm after all and has been in the Cuthbert family for 6 generations. But among the lowing cows and fields of barley (they grow their own, which is malted elsewhere) there is a real passion for making whisky. I have a feeling the distillery will go from strength to strength.

Bunnahabhain ‘Eirigh Na Greine’

Bought: World of Whisky, 28th June 2018

Ratings:
81.94/100 – Whiskybase (average from 20 member votes)
5/5 – Master of Malt (average from 5 member votes)

I do love a 1000ml bottle of whisky, especially if it contains good uisce beatha. You’ll often read online that Travel Retail used to do more 1 litre bottles but there are still some to be had and new ones being introduced. The ‘Eirigh Na Greine’ (meaning ‘Morning Sky’) by Bunnahabhain first appeared in airports in 2014 as a ‘limited edition’ and has only ever been available as 1 litre. The distillery say it’s been exclusively matured in French red wine casks, which makes it interesting. Just to be awkward Master of Malt say “a portion of this single malt was matured in red wine casks” and Whiskybase says “Italian & French red wine casks”. Confused? Personally I’ll stick with what Bunnahabhain say as they make the stuff.

Nearly 82/100 on Whiskybase is a very respectable mark, although the standard 12yo scores over 85/100. You get the impression that Bunnahabhain fans don’t like the distillery profile being messed around with. Comments online include “very well balanced, beautiful presence”, “lovely rich and complex nose, wine-cask dominated palate and a pleasant finish”, “smooth as silk” and “if you like Bunnahabhain, this one is a must try to take your senses to new places and evolve your knowledge of this fine distillery”.

What Master of Malt have to say:

Nose: Toasted sugar, vanilla, raspberries and a little honey.
Palate: Apricot, sea salt, black pepper, more wine cask-influence berry sweetness.
Finish: Smoky and quite long. A little bit spicy, too.

Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the ‘Eirigh Na Greine’ on YouTube (August 2015):

Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition (1930s Propeller Plane)

Bought: Amazon, 6th June 2018

Ratings:
87.6/100 – Whiskybase (average from 7 member votes)
5/5 – The Whisky Exchange (average from 6 member votes)

My third Macallan post in a row. Anyone would think I was a fan! Well I am. You can’t really go wrong with a Macallan. I wouldn’t necessarily savour a glass of the ‘Gold’ for any length of time but it still has its moments and it’s undeniably Macallan. My one quibble with the illustrious Speyside giant is the amount of NAS (no age statement) releases they have done in recent years. My blogs about the Terra, Classic Cut and now the Whisky Maker’s Edition (WME) haven’t got a declared age digit between them. Call me picky but the age of a single malt used to be a significant piece of information when deciding what to buy and if a whisky was worth its price tag.

My WME first appeared in 2016 and was part of a series of 4 different presentations of the WME to feature work by the British x-ray photographer Nick Veasey. My bottle and box show an x-ray photo of a 1930s propeller plane. The others in the series depict a 1920s locomotive, 1930s ocean liner and a 1940s roadster. Nick Veasey is no stranger to Macallan who had already used his work in c.2012 for six versions of the WME entitled the Six Pillars. These pictures also appeared on six versions of the 12yo ‘Fine Oak’. I believe the WME has been on the go since 2009 and in airports as ‘Travel Retail Exclusive’, which means it was soon available everywhere else.

Well that’s all very interesting but what about the whisky itself? Scoring 87.6/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score and all the reviewers on The Whisky Exchange absolutely love this dram. Comments include, “amazing experience, indulging”, “compared to a Macallan Gold for tasting purposes at a gathering and clearly a couple of levels of smoothly and strength higher”, “excellent round flavour with spicy fruit” and “well worth the money”.

What Macallan have to say about the Whisky Maker’s Edition:

Nose: Fresh fruit and ginger rounded off with toffee sweetness.
Palate: Delicate fruits, rich sweetness and spice.
Finish: Lingering with a slightly smoky finish.

Here’s Whisky Whistle with his thoughts on YouTube about the Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition (December 2015):

Macallan ‘Classic Cut’ 2017

Bought: Macallan Distillery Shop, 9th February 2018

Ratings:
88.84/100 – Whiskybase (average from 88 member votes)

I’ve always wanted a cask strength Macallan. Back in August 2016 I discovered 12 different bottlings of Macallan produced by Single Malts Direct. They ranged from 47.2% for a 1989 vintage to 55.4% for the youngest offering distilled in 1997. The cost ranged from £69 to £92 but at 50cl I felt the price was quite steep. Those were the days! 2 years later and independent bottlers charge a fortune for an outrun of Macallan. Back in 2016 I hesitated and when I returned to make a purchase all 12 bottlings had sold out.

Early in 2018 I got an email from Macallan distillery about the new ‘Classic Cut’. There was no mention of “cask strength” but at 58.4% it sounded like it ought to be. I ordered a bottle. In late 2017 Macallan released 7 new bottles in the ‘Exceptional Cask’ series, all of which had “Cask Strength” written on them. The youngest bottles were two 12yos at 63.8% and 65.2%, which suggests that Macallan’s casks and warehousing keeps the raw spirit high, even after 12 years. By the time we get to a 15yo ‘Exceptional Cask’ it’s 58.5%, 0.1% stronger than the Classic Cut. Wow, does that mean the Classic Cut is a 15yo? Sadly not. At £86 the Classic Cut is going to be young and unless it was badly stored or mixed with old, weak spirit, it’s been watered down to 58.4%. So it’s highly unlikely to be cask strength – damn!

Macallan are no fools. ‘Cask strength’ is one of the buzz phrases in the whisky world at the moment so if the Classic Cut were truly cask strength it would be emblazoned on the bottle and box for all to see as it was with the ‘Exceptional Cask’ range. But it’s close enough for me! And scoring nearly 89/100 on Whiskybase the Classic Cut is hitting Macallan 18yo territory. The Classic Cut is clearly an excellent whisky but, dare I say, it’s also proving to be a very good investment. 7 months after purchase and auction prices have hit £150. But if you want a bottle and £150 seems rather pricy for a non-cask strength NAS, Macallan say on their website “the first in a new series of annual releases”. The Classic Cut 2018 has already been announced but at a much weaker 51.2% (even less likely to be cask strength). I wonder how much Macallan will charge given the success of the 2017 version?

What Macallan say about the Classic Cut:

Nose: Creamy vanilla custard, sweet ginger, fresh sweet oak.
Palate: Caramel, orange zest, nutmeg spice.
Finish: Warming oak with a sweet mouth coating.

Here’s Liquor Hound with his thoughts on YouTube about the Macallan ‘Classic Cut’ 2017 and how it compares to older cask strength Macallans, even though he doesn’t believe that the Classic Cut is cask strength (November 2017):

Macallan ‘Terra’

Bought: World of Whisky, 22nd March 2018

Ratings:
85.35/100 – Whiskybase (average from 19 member votes)

Firstly, thank you to everyone for getting my blog over £200k hits. Who knew that whisky was so popular that an obscure blog like mine could get so may views!

The ‘Terra’ is part of the new Travel Retail range that the Macallan distillery introduced into airports at the end of 2017. Like the colour range before it (Gold, Amber, Sienna and Ruby) there are four bottles in the new set consisting of the Quest, Lumina, Terra and Enigma. I’ve listed both ranges from low to high according to price. The main reason I went for the Terra as my first example of the new range is because it equates to the Sienna (3rd in terms of price), which was the best of the colour range. But wow, what a price difference! The Sienna was c.£65 and the Terra cost £128, almost double. If there’s one distillery that knows how to squeeze blood out of a stone it’s Macallan.

Scoring over 85/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score and more than a point ahead of the Sienna. The Terra is matured exclusively in first-fill European and American sherry seasoned oak casks so the spirit gets first dibs on all the flavour in the wood. At 43.8% the Terra is 0.8% higher than the Sienna but it’s a shame it’s not 46%, especially considering the price. At least it’s not 40% like the Gold and Quest. In fairness to the Terra its packaging is better than the Sienna. The Ruby was slightly more expensive than the Terra, similar presentation and an almost identical score on Whiskybase. It’s almost as if the Terra equates to the Ruby rather than the Sienna and the Enigma is in a bracket of its own.

Comments online about the Terra include, “much better then the Quest and the Lumina”, “it’s special. Lovely complex texture. I’ve never tried anything so well balanced and in my personal opinion, perfect”, “lovely sherried layers compared to the Ruby”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Fresh orange, brioche, coffee, sultana and walnut loaf.
Palate: Melted chocolate, dried apricot, toffee pennies and a touch of strawberry jam.
Finish: Baking spices and dried oak notes take shape on the finish.