Category Archives: Scottish Single Malts

Aberlour 1970 25-year-old ‘Jewels of Scotland’

Bought: Whisky Auction, 4th June 2019

Ratings:
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?

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Highland Park ‘Viking Tribe’

Bought: Amazon, 17th January 2019

Ratings:
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):

Glen Grant 1970 5-year-old

Bought: Whisky Auction, 31st July 2018

Ratings:
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!

Aerstone ‘Land Cask’ & ‘Sea Cask’ 10-year-old (Tesco Supermarket)

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):

Kingsbarns ‘Dream to Dram’ 3-year-old

Bought: Kingsbarns Distillery Online Shop, 5th February 2019

Ratings:
81.8/100 – Whiskybase (average from 97 member votes)

When I started on my whisky journey in 2013 there were only 3 active single malt distilleries in the Scottish lowlands, which were Auchentoshan, Bladnoch and Glenkinchie. None of these distilleries were known for producing breathtaking spirit and indeed Bladnoch even stumbled and closed in 2014. Basically the region wasn’t setting the whisky world on fire. But now, 6 years later, I feel confident in saying that no other region has expanded as much as the lowlands of Scotland. Wikipedia list 9 new active distilleries, so an increase of 300% with 9 more in development. Personally in the last few years I’ve added bottles from Aisla Bay, Daftmill, Eden Mill, The Glasgow Distillery and now Kingsbarns. I’d add Annandale if they ever sold a whisky at a sensible price!

It was my WordPress buddy Tobi over on Barley Mania that put me onto ‘Dream to Dram’ by the Kingsbarns distillery when they posted about it in February 2019. I rushed over to the Kingsbarns online shop and ordered a bottle of their new 3-year-old. They must have been so excited to be supplying one of the world’s leading whisky bloggers that they sent me two bottles – what a bonus! So even more youthful nectar to enjoy.

Scoring almost 82/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score, especially for a 3-year-old whisky from a new distillery. Comments across the internet seem very favourable including, “clean, sweet, with lovely vanilla and berry notes”, “very smooth on first taste – not at all harsh like some youngsters that I have tasted in the past”, “still a bit young, but already very promising” and “for three years, this whisky really succeeded”.

Combining 1st fill bourbon barrels with wine casks might seem like a gamble for a new distillery but it’s certainly paid off for Kingsbarns and it shows that their master blender knows their stuff. The distillery, not far from St Andrews in Fife, offer tours and score an excellent 4.5/5 stars on Trip Advisor, so well worth a visit.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: You can really smell those first-fill bourbon casks. There’s vanilla and crème brûlée plus lots of new make character, tropical fruit, and quite pronounced alcohol.

Palate: Smooth texture, sweet cereal notes, light and fruity, with some roasty coffee notes.

Finish: Banana bread, of all things.

Here’s ‘Great Drams Whisky Reviews’ with their thoughts about ‘Dream to Dram’ on YouTube (May 2019):

Allt-a-Bhainne (NAS distillery release)

Bought: Sainsbury’s, 23rd May 2019

Ratings:
78.27/100 – Whiskybase (average from 13 member votes)
4/5 Stars – The Whisky Exchange (average from 4 ratings)

Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard) appear to have a plan, which is to introduce pocket-friendly bottlings into UK supermarkets from their more obscure distilleries. I believe it started in 2017 with the Glenallachie ‘Distillery Edition’ and then the Glen Keith ‘Distillery Edition’ in 2018. We now have a simple offering from the Allt-a-Bhainne distillery. All three releases are NAS (no age statement), from Speyside, 40%, and probably chill-filtered with added colour.

I would say Chivas have given us an inexpensive way to experience the house-style of each distillery but that only applies to the Glenallachie and Glen Keith. This new Allt-a-Bhainne has taken a different tack by introducing a hint of peat. Wow, a peated Speyside? “Bolsheviks!” I hear you cry. OK, so it’s been done to death in recent years but this one is so subtle that a lot of reviewers struggle to spot that it’s there. The marketing blurb says, “just enough peat to start a fire”. Hmmm, I think the marketing team at Chivas are confusing peat with matches, flint, or two sticks you rub together. Peat might keep a fire going but I’ve never heard of it starting one.

But less of my nit-picking and quibbling. Is this whisky worth drinking? Just over 78/100 on Whiskybase suggest it’s OK, leaning towards ‘good’ but that’s what you’d expect for the price point. Sainsbury’s say the RRP is £37 but even when they reduced it to £27 I wasn’t tempted. It took a drop to £20 to draw me in, which was the same discounted price as the Glen Keith (Glenallachie I got for £21). For £20 comments on a whisky Facebook page were “get it!”, “get it!” and “get it!” Other comments online include, “mild mouthfeel with just the right level of peatiness”, “absolutely gorgeous and smooth. The hint of peatness is just perfect”, “it’s smooth, subtle peat flavour, nice flavours going on but it’s very sweet – too sweet for me” and “very quaffable”.

I get the feeling that Chivas introduced this new Allt-a-Bhainne to allow the diehard Speyside fan to try a tentative toe-dip in peaty waters. Anyone who regularly drinks Islay malts is going to struggle to spot the peat and probably down-rate the dram as a consiquence. But for what it is I feel the Allt-a-Bhainne hits the spot. And I hope Chivas continue the trend of releases from their lesser known distilleries. How about a Braeval ‘Distillery Edition’ in 2020!

Here’s Great Drams with their thoughts on the new Allt-a-Bhainne on YouTube (Oct 2018):

Macallan ‘Concept Number 1’

Bought: World of Whisky, 16th March 2019

Ratings:
85.65/100 – Whiskybase (average from 85 member votes)
85/100 – Mark Dermul (his YouTube review below)

As someone said on a whisky Facebook page, because this Macallan has a “1” in the title it has “investment” written all over it. When the Macallan Edition 1 came out 4 years ago it sold for €90 and according to Whiskybase there were at least 120,000 bottles. It now sells at auction for around 4 times that price and over £1,000 retail in the UK. The new Macallan Concept No.1, released in 2018, comprised 84,000 bottles and retailed at £100. It’s not inconceivable that bottles will reach £400 at auction by 2022/3. Why didn’t I buy more than one bottle? Because there are never any guarantees with investments, and there are always other whiskies to try.

If you own the Concept 1 and you’d prefer to drink it rather than sit on it like a goose with a golden liquid egg, the majority of tasters have enjoyed it although they’re quite quiet about it online. Scoring 85.65/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score but the majority of reviewers leaving comments are rather negative. Even Mark Dermul, who rates the Concept a very good 85/100, remarks that the NAS (no age statement) releases at the lowest possible ABV (40%) are getting tiring.

Although the Concept 1 may get some thumbs down from seasoned whisky drinkers, the sturdy presentation box and modern design make it an ideal gift for a Macallan enthusiast. If you don’t tell them the price they’re not going to grumble. Even at 40% it packs enough flavour and Macallan finesse to go down well.

Tasting notes from Macallan:

Nose: Sweet butterscotch toffee, with almond, ginger spice and cinnamon. Hints of dried fruit, citrus and green banana

Palate: Sweet orange and lemon citrus with soft oak spices, fresh fruit and ginger

Finish: Medium sweet, dry with a lingering oak, citrus fruit and ginger finish

Here’s Mark Dermul on YouTube with his thoughts on the Macallan Concept Number 1 (March 2019):

Eden Mill, Hip Flask Series #6 & #7

Bought: Eden Mill Online Shop, 15th May 2018

Hip Flask no.6 ‘Oloroso Sherry Hogshead’

Ratings:
84/100 – Whiskybase (average from 6 member votes)

Hip Flask no.7 ‘PX Sherry Hogshead’

Ratings:
83.33/100 – Whiskybase (average from 5 member votes)

Almost a year since I bought these 20cl bottles from the new Eden Mill distillery in St. Andrews and they’re still available from their online shop along with 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 in the series, all for £25 each. Sadly numbers 1 to 5 have long since sold out. But these little bottles are a cracking way for any whisky enthusiast to get an inexpensive taste of this new Lowland distillery. Some of the first 5 hip flasks were quite experimental in their cask use but numbers 6 and 7 follow a more traditional sherry wood maturation. I tried no.6 and it was a very pleasant experience, much like the tasting notes below from the distillery but I didn’t pick up the “subtle peat smoke”. Perhaps it all floated away when I popped the cork. But it certainly tasted older than 3 years. For such youth and at a potent 47% it felt very mellow and easy to drink with plenty of complexity.

I personally know Eden Mill more for its gin, which is testament to how good their marketing has been for a company only founded in 2012. They also make beer and have the claim to fame of being Scotland’s first combined brewery and distillery. Eden Mill also believe in supporting national pastimes as they sponsor Scottish Rugby, Hibernian Football Club and Celtic FC women’s team to name but three. That answers the question about what goes in the drink bottles for half time refreshments!

Anyway, less of my rambling. Here are the tasting notes provided on the Eden Mill website:

Series 6 – Oloroso Sherry tasting notes from Eden Mill website:

Nose: Darker in appearance, this scotch whisky leads with sweet icing sugar notes on the nose combined with a rum raisines creating a full-bodied flavour like no other. In combination, notes of honeycomb and coffee work hand in hand to create the perfect balance.

Taste: With a subtle peat smoke underneath, Hip Flask No. 6 is rich on the palate yet leaves a caramel latte sweetness.

Finish: Expect a short, dry, finish with a hint of sweetness. Maturation in a Sherry cask is most noticeable on the finish – dried-berry notes with a heavy, spice underneath.

Series 7 – PX Sherry tasting notes from Eden Mill website:

Hip Flask Series No. 7. Only 1,350 bottles have been lovingly handcrafted for your pleasure.

Noise: The Maturation in PX Sherry Hogshead Casks imparts a rich, demerara-like profile, with plum, raisin, date fruit notes alongside.

Taste: On the nose, a real juicyness from the green apple is present apace with a light sweetness from the honey. A subtle hint of delicate floral notes leads to a light, sweet and sherried character, which progresses to a rich, earthy spice.

Finish: With sweet sultanas alongside a hint of dry christmas spice, leaving the palate with a malty sweetness that is both short and spicey to finish.

Talisker 8-year-old Special Release 2018

Bought: Master of Malt, 18th September 2018

Ratings:
87.92/100 – Whiskybase (average from 321 member votes)
9/10 – Whisky Wednesday (his YouTube review here)

I must admit I wasn’t even aware of the 2018 Special Releases from Diageo until this Talisker 8-year-old appeared towards the end of the run. It may even have been the last of the 10. The previous 9 were either too expensive or too mediocre for me to care. Among them was a 28-year-old from the closed distillery Pittyvaich, which I’ve rarely heard good things about. But as a collector’s item I’m sure it will do very well. No doubt this Talisker 8yo will do the same. Thankfully its youthfulness was its saving grace with regards to price. Diageo kept it down to £70 but 8 months later and auction prices are hitting £130.

No doubt the chosen age statement of 8 years was doffing its cap to the classic Talisker 8yo last seen in the 1980s but back then it was still only 45.8%. This special release tips the scales at 59.4% so it’s like the 57 Degrees on steroids with an age worth owning up to. I’m beginning to wish I’d bought two bottles!

Not surprisingly the reviews for this tantalising Talisker have been very favourable. Comments online include “the most flavoursome whisky I have had in living memory, and I am very old”, “this is superb, I cannot see how they got such complexity and depth in an 8yo” and Serge of Whisky Fun summaries with “fantastic whisky, one of the best quality/age ratio out there, in my opinion” and rated it 91/100.

As tempting as it is to keep this special Talisker as in investment I feel it has to be drunk at some stage. I’d have to hit rock bottom before considering selling it, even when it starts getting over £200 at auction. As a big fan of this Skye distillery it would be a travesty not to taste this little beauty. Something for a special occasion.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Super medicinal: this one is all about the Bonjela notes. There’s metallic peat smoke of course, along with topical pineapple, strawberry, roast pork, peppery vanilla, and a toffee backdrop.

Palate: Powerful – this one packs a punch. There’s pepper, wood smoke, pork sausages on a barbeque, apple sauce, coffee beans, butterscotch and blackcurrant. There’s a cranberry-citrus sharpness, too.

Finish: Long and lingering, and all about that woodsmoke-fruit balance.

Here’s Mark ‘Jedi’ Dermul with his thoughts on the Talisker 8yo on YouTube, which he scores an excellent 86/100 (April 2019):

Kilchoman ‘Sanaig’

Bought: Master of Malt, 18th September 2018

Ratings:
85.18/100 – Whiskybase (average from 265 member votes)

It’s been over 3 years since I added a Kilchoman to my collection, which is something I feel quite guilty about. This Islay distillery, albeit the newest on the island (for now), produces fantastic single malt whisky. Even an ‘average’ Kilchoman is head-and-shoulders above most drams on the market. Unfortunately I was thinking about my wallet when the first 10-year-old appeared for Club members a few years ago. I should have bought it but it seemed very expensive for a 10yo, even at cask strength. But one shouldn’t have regrets with whisky because there are so many good experiences to be had from bottles you do manage to secure. One or two gems are bound to slip through the net.

I’ve had my eye on the ‘Sanaig’ ever since it was released in 2015. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it’s because of the purple packaging. What can I say – it’s my favourite colour! But, even so, I wouldn’t have bought the Sanaig if it wasn’t good whisky. The Glenlivet Captain’s Reserve has purple packaging but I’m in no hurry to buy a bottle, unless it’s reduced to £20 to reflect the quality of the whisky inside.

The name ‘Sanaig’ refers to a sea inlet near Kilchoman distillery and doesn’t appear to have any Gaelic meaning in English that I can find. Perhaps the purple rocks or seaweed of Sanaig bay influenced the choice of presentation. Overall the whisky inside is well liked with comments online including, “for a relatively young whisky the complexity of this spirit cannot be understated”, “good balance between bourbon a sherry cask and peaty whisky” and “if you prefer medium peated single malts with chocolate notes I can’t recommend anything higher than this”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Pineapple chunks and white grapes. Hints of fresh coffee carry the earthy, subtly spicy peat. Toffee cubes.

Palate: More light fruits (this time of the peach variety), with dark chocolate raisins and a whisper of red berries. Peat grows and grows, with a little black pepper too.

Finish: Quite long with coastal peat lasting.

Vin PF of No Nonsense Whisky gives his thoughts on the Kilchoman Sanaig on YouTube (July 2018):