Paul John ‘Brilliance’

Bought: Marks & Spencer, 14th November 2017

Ratings:
94/100 – Whisky Bible 2018
88/100 – Whisky Wise (video review below)
81.6/100 – Whiskybase (average from 94 member votes)

When I started collecting in 2013 the only whisky available in the UK from India was from the Amrut distillery. John Distillery started life in Goa, India in 1992 and their ‘Paul John’ brand was first launched in London in October 2012. It took a few years before it crept into the majority of online British shops but it now seems to be here to stay. I’ve wanted an example from ‘Paul John’ for several years so I’m delighted to finally add the ‘Brilliance’ to my collection.

Brilliance is a non-peated, non chill-filtered single malt and Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible, absolutely loves it. He scores his first sample of Brilliance 94.5/100 but batch 3, bottled July 2016 scores an equally fantastic 94/100. My example is also batch 3 but bottled in October 2016. 94/100 classifies the Brilliance as a ‘superstar whisky that gives us all a reason to live’. Mr Murray says about the taste, “this was a malt designed to get the most out of the barley and here the juices arrive in force and early on. Much less copper than the first bottling, showing this relatively new distillery is moving on, but the spices and light mocha make a handsome contribution.” He summaries with, “it is impossible not to be impressed. Complexity is the key word here. And though it has moved on a little – mainly through tannin – from its earlier rendition, the layering and structure remains superb. The tail needs a little attention, but I’m being ultra-strict: this is excellent whisky and make no mistake.”

81.6/100 in Whiskybase is a very good score where comments include “a totally underrated whisky in my opinion. I like it a lot”, “Initially surprising soft, but soon followed by a real punch, with a lingering aftertaste. A real eye opener.”

Here’s Jason of Whisky Wise with his thoughts about the Paul John ‘Brilliance’ on YouTube (July 2017):

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Glen Marnoch 29-year-old (Aldi)

Bought: Aldi, 14th November 2017

Ratings:
81/100 – Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com)
81.5/100 – Whiskybase (from 4 member votes)

If your local Aldi store is anything like mine then going there is never a pleasant experience. Like most men I’m not a fan of queuing but that seems to be a prerequisit hobby for those who shop at Aldi. There are no self-service or ‘basket only’ checkouts so I always find myself stuck behind several people with trolleys overflowing with shopping as if they were preparing for a holocaust. But each year, just before Christmas, Aldi release a mystery single malt under the guise of ‘Glen Marnoch’, which is very old but for very little money. The 2016 release of Glen Marnoch 28yo had a beautiful deep sherry colour, which I believe was natural, and received critical acclaim. Sadly I missed it but I didn’t want to lose out for another year!

There were 11,000 bottles released of the Glen Marnoch 29yo. This got me wondering – how many barrels would you need for that sort of output? The most commonly used barrel in the whisky industry is a butt, which contains between 475 and 500ltrs. After a minimum of 29 years the angels would have their share so let’s be generous and say each barrel contained 475 litres. 11,000 bottles at 70cl is 7,700 litres, which is just over 16 barrels. That doesn’t sound like a lot but how many distilleries have 16 barrels of 29yo whisky kicking about that they could make a profit from if Aldi want to sell it at £40 a bottle? In truth I don’t know but you have to think there aren’t many candidates. At that price it’s likely that the source distillery is known more for quantity than quality. Someone suggests on Whiskybase that it’s Glen Moray, which is certainly a possibility.

Tasting notes:

Nose: candied orchard fruits, honey, grassy-yeast, bourbon cask influences
Taste: honeyed cereal notes, vanilla, warming sweet lemon
Finish: quite short

The Glen Marnoch 28yo released in 2016 scores 88/100 on Whiskybase from 7 member reviews so the 29yo is lagging behind with 81.5/100. What the 29yo has in its favour over the 28yo is a review from the legendary Ralfy. Either he didn’t taste the 28yo or it scored less than 80/100 so unworthy of a review in his opinion. He gives the 29yo a respectable 81/100. Here is Ralfy with his thoughts about the Glen Marnoch 29yo on YouTube (Dec 2017):

Bunnahabhain ‘Small Batch Distilled’ 12-year-old (2017-)

Bought: Waitrose, 10th November 2017

Ratings:
85.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2014
85.76/100 – Whiskybase (from 44 member votes)

In 2017 Bunnahabhain decided it was time to update their packaging. Waitrose reduced the new 12yo to under £30 (as they often do) so I picked up a bottle. Not that I took much convincing because this is one of my favourite single malts regardless of price. Bunnahabhain clearly know what the market wants and the 12yo ticks all the boxes with good potency (46.3%), no chill filtration, natural colour, bags of flavour, great value (even at full price) and an age statement!

The use of the new term ‘Small Batch Distilled’ on the packaging got me wondering if the 12yo had changed in flavour but apparently it’s the same old 12yo inside the bottle. The use of ‘Small Batch’ is a vague term that stems from American whiskey production. Perhaps Bunnahabhain got the idea from their Islay neighbour Bowmore who released a NAS (non-age statement) in 2014 called ‘Small Batch’. It refers to small-scale production but there is no requirement to define what ‘small’ actually means. Small compared to what? In fact it’s so meaningless I’ve wasted too many words on it already! 🙂 Moving on….

One thing that’s clear from online reviews is that Bunna fans love this new release, even if it’s just the packaging that’s changed (although there will be subtle differences from batch to batch). Scoring nearly 86/100 on Whiskybase is a fantastic score with previous years tending to score in the range of 84-85/100. Comments online include “nice all man’s friend that is dangerously quaffable”, “fantastic complex whisky that compares with the very best”, “this is a wonderful whisky, rich sherry, oak, salty notes, and light hints of cherry” and “the best 12yr aged malt on the market”.

Tasting notes from ‘Master of Malt’:

Nose: Fresh, sweet. Seaweed, malt.
Palate: Soft, supple. Sherry, nutty. A little sweetness, malty, juicy sultana. Slightly coastal.
Finish: Sherried, mochaccino, herbal, balanced salty tang.

Here is Horst and Ben Luening with their thoughts about the new Bunna 12yo on YouTube (Jan 2018):

Co-op Highland 12-year-old (Dalmore)

Bought: Co-op Foods, 9th November 2017

The Co-operative chain of shops has been selling a 12-year-old Highland single malt for many years. Although the source distillery is a mystery there are some clues that point firmly at Dalmore. A whisky forum discussion in 2012 said the packaging mentions ‘The Black Isle’, which is synonymous with Dalmore. It was also said that Richard Patterson, who is the master blender for Whyte & Mackay, who own Dalmore, blended the dram. Another clue is the use of lots of colorant. Love it or hate it, Dalmore use a lot of E150.

In 2016 into 2017 the packaging for the Co-op 12yo changed but it still mentions ‘The Black Isle’, although strictly speaking this could also apply to the Glen Ord and Teaninich distilleries. There’s no mention of Richard Patterson but the colouring still screams ‘Dalmore’ (favourite dram of Oompa Loompas to maintain their complexion). It’s not going to be the same as the Dalmore 12yo, which is part-finished in 30-year-old Gonzalez Byass Matusalem oloroso sherry casks, but at half the price the Co-op 12yo is worth seeking out.

For an online review in 2015 Cambridge Wine Blogger says, “a golden, mahogany toffee colour, it has a complex nose of citrus, sandalwood and roasted spices; cooked mixed fruit, pastry shop, sweet vanilla and complex dark sherry flavours. Warming, assertive and persistent.” And concludes with, “good value and very good.”

Here’s Tropical Scot with his review of the Co-op Highland 12-year-old on YouTube (Jan 2017):

Aberlour A’bunadh Batch 59

Bought: Waitrose, 18th October 2017

Ratings:
87.52/100 – Whiskybase (from 23 member votes)

Aberlour distillery first introduced the A’bunadh (meaning ‘the origin’) back in 1997 so 2017 marked 20 years of this delectable dram. Each batch is cask strength at around 60% and is a single malt blended from barrels aged between 5 and 25 years. From the batches I’ve tried over the years I’ve never detected young whisky in the mix in a negative way. Whoever blends the A’bunadh at Aberlour distillery certainly knows how to combine young and old spirit for best effect. The A’bunadh is exclusively matured in Spanish oak from Oloroso sherry butts and is bottled without being chill filtered or having additional colouring. This is natural sherried Speyside single malt at its very best.

All whisky collectors have regrets and one of mine is deciding not to buy an A’bunadh batch 28 or 29 in 2014. A shop in Holland I was using had them for €89. It seemed too expensive at the time but bottles are now fetching over £120 at auctions today. The earliest batch I’ve tried is No.45 and I saved a 10cl sample of it for posterity. I feel like I’ve missed out on the evolution of the A’bunadh. But according to reviews it’s not as if the earlier batches were better than the most recent releases. The whole point behind the A’bunadh was to replicate an old bottle of Aberlour from 1898, which was discovered at the distillery in 1975. So batch 1 should in theory be very similar in taste and quality to batch 60. But everyone will have their favourite and specific tasting notes vary from batch to batch.

Scoring over 87/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score but very typical for an A’bunadh. If you have batch 59, and you enjoy good sherry-bomb malt, you wont be disappointed!

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Dark chocolate and raisins, with underlying vanilla-rich malt persisting.
Palate: Coffee and walnut cake, blackcurrant squash, mince pie crust and ground clove.
Finish: Beeswax and honey, damson jam, black pepper, nutmeg and digestive biscuits.

Eagle Rare 10-year-old

Bought: Amazon, 16th June 2017

Ratings:
89/100 – Whisky Bible 2018
9.5/10 – Whisky Wednesday (video review below)
83.52/100 – Whiskybase (from 112 member votes)

The Eagle Rare 10yo produced by Buffalo Trace Distillery is probably the most accessible age-statement bourbon available in the UK. It’s matured in charred American white oak barrels and bottled at a very reasonable 45%. I got my bottle from Amazon but it’s also available from Waitrose supermarket and various online stores.

Jim Murray scores the Eagle Rare 10yo 89/100 in his Whisky Bible, which classifies it as “very good to excellent whiskey definitely worth buying”. His review was added in 2012 so it’s a bit out of date but other reviews suggest standards have remained high. Mr Murray says of the taste “early oils as expected, then a surprising change of gear towards a rye-Demerara mix which firms and then moves towards a much spicier, kumquat inclined middle than the nose suggests”. He summarises with “a surprising trip this with some dramatic changes en route”.

Scoring over 83/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score especially from over 100 votes. On Amazon this bourbon racks up an excellent 4.8/5 from 77 reviews. Comments online include “a wonderful, sweet and very quaffable bourbon”, “with some air, this bourbon reveals some if its inner qualities, namely the floral fragrance on top of its usual virgin oak blasts”, “one of the nicest bottles of bourbon I’ve ever drunk” and “so smooth and full of flavour”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Toasted oak gives way to flamed orange peel and maple syrup.
Palate: Honey, buttered bread, oily walnuts and a touch of red fruit.
Finish: Vanilla, oak spice and a little bit of old leather.

Here’s Jo of Whisky Wednesday with his video review of the Eagle Rare 10yo (Sept 2015), which he scores an outstanding 9.5/10:

Glen Ord 12-year-old (100cl)

Bought: Online Auction, 5th October 2017

Ratings:
85.65/100 – Whiskybase (from 8 member votes)
78/100 – Malt Maniacs (from 4 maniac votes)

This 40% Glen Ord 12yo was introduced in the mid 1990s (according to Malt Maniacs) and superseded in c.2005 by a square bottle version at a more potent 43%. I’ve wanted this distillery bottling of Glen Ord for a while because it was a classic of its day. There is certainly plenty of it about because it regularly appears in UK auctions where bottles make a modest £30-£60. The square bottle arguably contains better whisky than the earlier version from the 1990s but I was delighted to win this 100cl 40% for £42. After auction costs £55 doesn’t seem much for a whisky discontinued over 10 years ago and possibly bottled over 20 years ago. The whisky inside could have been distilled in the 1980s.

Scoring over 85/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score, albeit only from 8 member votes. Someone leaves the comment, “quite a good and complex dram for its age. A good bottling from the past.” The 70cl version listed on Whiskybase was bottled in 2003 and scores a more modest 81/100 from 64 votes. Comments include “much better than I was expecting, not exciting or anything but easy to drink”, “just ok, certainly not offensive and even positively cordial”, and “this one goes excellent with a good coffee, a lovely malt from a nice distillery”.

Serge Valentin, one of the Malt Maniacs, scores the Glen Ord 12yo 76/100 with the comment “the new one in the rectangular bottle is much better, but this old version is rather amiable, after all”. The picture of his bottle shows it came with a square box, which is probably the early presentation from the mid 1990s. I suspect my 100cl with the round tube is from 2000+. Serge Valentin’s review can be found here.

Here’s Ben of ‘A Dram A Day’ with a history of the Glen Ord distillery and his thoughts on the square bottle of the 12yo:

Glendronach 8-year-old The Hielan’

Bought: Aberdeen Whisky Shop, 14th September 2017

Ratings:
82/100 – Whisky Bible 2018
82.53/100 – Whiskybase (from 242 member votes)
87/100 – Ralfy (his video review below)

The Hielan’ (meaning ‘highland’) is the Glendronach distillery’s entry-level malt with a youthful age of 8 years. It’s still possible to find it for under £30 but its price is creeping up. I bought a miniature in a ‘tri’ pack along with the 12yo and 18yo. I’ll probably regret not getting the 70cl when I taste it because it sounds delicious, and the rejuvenated Glendronach is one of my favourite distilleries.

The Hielan’ gets a very similar mark in both the Whisky Bible and on Whiskybase. The Bible author Jim Murray says, “intense malt. But doesn’t quite feel as happy with the oil on show as it might”. 82/100 classifies the Hielan’ as “good whisky worth trying”. Mr Murray scores the 12yo ‘Original’ 86.5/100.

82.5/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score with comments of “simple GlenDronach, not very interesting. In this price category the 12 ‘Original’ is a better choice.” It’s a fair point because there isn’t a big enough price difference between the 8yo and 12yo Glendronach in most shops. The 12yo scores 83.8/100 on Whiskybase but Ralfy (YouTube video below) gives 87/100 to both the 8yo Hielan’ and 12yo ‘Original’. Clearly there’s not much in it.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Honey’d malt, vanilla fudge and citrus peels. Slightly chocolate-y raisin notes and a little cinnamon.
Palate: More spice comes through on the palate, but the vanilla-rich buttery elements remain up front. Freshly baked biscuits topped with almonds and plump sultanas.
Finish: Quite long, with Sherried fruit and ginger lasting.

Ralfy’s review on YouTube (August 2017):

Kinclaith 1967 (Gordon & MacPhail)

Bought: Online Auction, 5th October 2017

Ratings:
85/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)
72/100 – Malt Maniacs (for 70cl 1993 version)

Kinclaith wasn’t a distillery in its own right as it was constructed in the grounds of the Strathclyde grain distillery in Glasgow, which makes it a Lowland whisky. Founded in 1957 Kinclaith was closed in 1975 and subsequently demolished. In its short 18-year life Kinclaith was used for blending (primarily in Long John) and never officially sold as single malt. Whiskybase only list 5 independent bottlers releasing Kinclaith as a single malt with Cadenhead starting in 1985 with a 20-year-old. If you have a spare €2,000 you can buy this bottle from a shop in Germany. Hmmm, perhaps not!

Whiskybase list the last independent bottling of Kinclaith by ‘The Whisky Talker’ in 2010, some 7 years ago. That’s hardly surprising since it’s over 40 years since Kinclaith ceased to be. Are there any casks left unopened I wonder? My 5cl by Gordon & MacPhail (G&M) was probably bottled in 1993 (as per the 70cl, making it 25/26yo) but there isn’t a code confirming this on the back of the bottle’s label. There was also a 70cl G&M bottle released in 1991. I’ve wanted a miniature Kinclaith by G&M for years but I’ve never see one with a good neck level. My bottle (pictured below) has liquid up to the shoulders, which is as good as it gets. At least it’s enough to provide a taste of this rare Lowland gem.

Tasting notes and comment from Whiskybase (translated from German):

Nose: Light oak, some water mint, hair spray, old copper coins, dried, tropical fruits (pineapple, papaya, apricot), Werther’s original, Grand Marnier, cotton candy and some burnt caramel. With time and air, the whiskey opens up and becomes more fruity and finer.
Taste: Sweetish and slightly creamy with lots of malt and light vanilla. In addition there are bright fruits and some lemon. Then becoming pepperier. Light tannins, a bit orange bitter and a hint of bitters. At the end, the bitter oak occupies the entire mouth.
Finish: Medium in the middle, woody, slightly bitter and with a fine malty sweetness. In between, the tropical fruits flash out of the nose. At the end some milk coffee.
Comments: Old-school Malt! I would have thought the Lowlander to be much easier because of its geographical origin. The tropical fruits are great, but cannot prevail over the bitter oak. This is also a bit too bitter and too dominant for me.

Highland Park ‘Saint Magnus’ 12-year-old (2010)

Bought: Online Auction, 5th October 2017

Ratings:
76.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2013
89/100 – Serge Valentin (www.whiskyfun.com)
86.5/100 – Whiskybase (average from 225 member votes)

Highland Park ‘Saint Magnus’ 12yo was a distillery release in 2010 and was the second edition from the Inga Saga trilogy. The Saint Magnus label isn’t new to Highland Park as I’ve seen bottle examples using it in the 1960s. The Inga Saga trio consisted of:

  • Earl Magnus 15yo, 2009, 5,976 bottles, 52.6%
  • Saint Magnus 12yo, 2010, 11,994 bottles, 55%
  • Earl Haakon 18yo, 2011, 3,300 bottles, 54.9%

When the Saint Magnus 12yo appeared in 2010 it was priced at €100. Some felt it was expensive for what it was but €100 for a similar release in 2017 would seem quite reasonable. The presentation is very good and I like the sturdy wooden display case. An equivalent Highland Park costing €100 today would be the Sigurd, which comes in a solid wooden box but it’s NAS (non-age statement), widely available and only 43%.

Jim Murray’s review of the Saint Magnus in his Whisky Bible 2013 is a bit of an outlier especially when compared to 89/100 from Serge Valentin of Whisky Fun. Mr Murray simply says “tight and bitter” and 76.5/100 classifies this dram as “average and usually pleasant though sometimes flawed”. Serge Valentin only uses the word ‘bitter’ with regards to ‘bitter oranges’ in the taste but I don’t get the impression this is a negative remark. He says “the cinnamon is really big” and, “with water: now it’s really excellent, with a great earthiness”. I’m a big fan of cinnamon so this sounds good to me!

Scoring over 86.5/100 on Whiskybase is a very good mark. Comments include “great malt”, “shows the potential of the distillery” and “one of the most interesting malts that HP has brought to market in recent years” (written in 2016). I’m left thinking that Jim Murray had a tainted sample because his low rating of the Saint Magnus is in the minority.