Auchentoshan 12-year-old

Bought: Amazon, 12th March 2016

Ratings:
91.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
79.14/100 – Whiskybase (average from 111 member votes)

I must admit I tend to think of Auchentoshan whisky as being in the same bracket as Jura, Fettercairn and Speyburn in terms of quality. This might seem unfair until you look at the entry-level single malts each distillery produce and they get similar ratings online. One reviewer on Whiskybase for the Auchentoshan 12yo even says “very similar to Jura 10”. Other comments for the Auchentoshan 12yo include “Approachable”, “Enjoyable dram” and “worth spending some time otherwise will completely pass you by”. It’s this last remark that’s important because Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com) says in his YouTube review in 2009 to give this dram 15 minutes to open up. This allows the whisky to get over the E150 obstacle and let out its freshness and summery citrus notes.

One person who certainly enjoys the Auchentonshan 12yo is Jim Murray. Scoring 91.5/100 in his Whisky Bible classifies this Lowland single malt as “brilliant”. He says about the taste “oily and buttery; intense barley carrying delicate marzipan and vanilla” and concludes with “a delicious malt very much happier with itself than it has been for a while”.

Having tried the Auchentoshan 12yo I certainly enjoyed it but it doesn’t hold a candle to the Highland Park 12yo, which is cheaper, nor the Talisker 10yo, which is significantly more complex and rewarding. But every whisky enthusiast will at some time want to try an example from the Scottish Lowlands and the Auchentoshan 12yo is very approachable and pleasant.

Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the Auchentoshan 12yo on YouTube (July 2016):

Arthur J. A. Bell’s Vat No.1

Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 10th January 2017

Ratings:
None I can find.

Arthur J.A. Bell (1946-2015) is not to be confused with Arthur Bell (1825-1900) who founded the famous Bell’s blend. But the two names are very much connected in the realms of whisky history. Arthur J.A. Bell (J.A.) was born in Brechin in 1946 and went to Edinburgh University where he was the co-author of “A Complete Edinburgh Pub Guide”, which sold 20,000 copies. In 1973 J.A. set up the company ‘Scottish Direct’ to sell high quality art and crafts. The company relocated to a disused tweed mill in Biggar, South Lanarkshire, and formed ‘Scottish Gourmet’ to sell local produce by mail order.

J.A. was known as the “The Whisky Connoisseur” and it was under this name that his company bottled and sold numerous single malts. They were given their own unique names such as Taranty (Glencadam) and Honest Tam (Balvenie). The full list that I know of can be found here. It wasn’t until 1985 when Guinness made a hostile takeover of Bell’s Whisky in Perth that J.A. came up with the idea of a blended whisky under the name ‘Scottish Gourmet’. He checked with his lawyer that it would be OK to add his signature to the label of the blend. Although his lawyer said it was OK, Guinness took Arthur J.A. Bell to court, only to end up losing. J.A. wrote an article about the story here.

The original ‘Scottish Gourmet’ blend (later named ‘The Real Macoy’) consisted of Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Springbank mixed with a single grain from the Highlands aged for well over 10 years. Although my miniature ‘Vat No.1’ shouldn’t contain any grain I’m hoping it has some or all of the Scottish Gourmet single malts vatted together at a blended cask strength of 47.3%. Here’s hoping!

Articles written by Arthur J.A. Bell, the Whisky Connoisseur, can be located here.

An obituary of Arthur J.A. Bell can be located here.

BenRiach 12-year-old ‘Matured in Sherry Wood’

Bought: Aberdeen Whisky Shop, 11th September 2015

Ratings:
95.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
83.14/100 – Whiskybase (average from 525 member votes)

If I were to list my top 10 whiskies to have in the sideboard the BenRiach 12yo would be one of them. It ticks the boxes for quality and budget, which make it ideal as a regular sipper. But saying that I see prices are on the increase. I bought my bottle for £32.50 but 18 months later it’s up to £41.50. A sign of the times or is BenRiach becoming more exclusive?

Scoring 95.5/100 in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible is a fantastic score and classifies this quality 12yo as a “superstar whisky that gives us all a reason to live”. In the author’s opinion it beats other standard distillery 12yos such as the Glenfiddich (85.5/100), Old Pulteney (90.5/100), Highland Park (78/100), Glendronach (92/100), Glenfarclas (94/100), Glengoyne (91.5/100) and even the new and acclaimed Glen Grant (95/100). Mr Murray says about the BenRiach taste “quite magnificent! How I pray whiskies to be on delivery, but find they so rarely are. Some caramels are caught up in the genteel squabble between the grape juice and the rich barley.” He concludes with “a celebration of a malt whisky in more ways than you could believe.”

Scoring just over 83/100 on Whiskybase is a very good mark but not to the same degree as the Whisky Bible. Comments include “beautiful entrance to sherried single malts”, “a pleasant whisky with an easy-to-drink character” and “this is a seriously good core range whisky and considering the price, it’s a great bang for the buck.”

Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts on YouTube (December 2014):

Scottish Parliament 12-year-old

Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 10th January 2017

Ratings:
86.5/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)

This mystery single malt was released to celebrate 1997’s reconstitution of the first Scottish parliament since 1707. I have a miniature but the 70cl version was a limited release of 5000. When it was sold on ‘Master of Malt’ it was listed as £27 but since selling out bottles have made between £25 and £110 at auction depending on condition. The bottle was produced by ‘Flavour of Scotland’ who are listed online as a consultancy and still active at their Glasgow address.

Scoring 86.5/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score albeit from only 2 member votes. The tasting notes below suggest the Scottish Parliament 12yo is probably a single malt from a mystery Highland distillery:

Nose: soft smoke & citrus with fresh fruit feature
Palate: soft and sweet with syrup and oak
Finish: sherried with hints of chocolate and spice

Glen Garioch 12-year-old

Bought: Amazon, 16th April 2016

Ratings:
88/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
82.35/100 – Whiskybase (average from 354 member votes)
91/100 – Whisky Bitch (her video review below)

As a fan of the Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve I jumped at the chance to get the 12yo when Amazon reduced it to £32. That’s cheap for any 12yo whisky let alone one as hefty as 48%. Once open the 12yo certainly is a lovely dram but I slightly prefer the Founder’s Reserve, which seems less ‘designed’. I tried the 12yo again when visiting the Glen Garioch distillery and it stood up well against the 15yo, which I also got to sample. It’s hard to go wrong with spicy dark fruits, vanilla and a hint of smoke when presented at 48%. Delicious!

Scoring 88/100 in the Whisky Bible classifies the Glen Garioch 12yo as a ‘very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying’. The author, Jim Murray, says of the taste “sticking, broadly, to the winning course of the original 43% version, though here there is a fraction more toffee at the expense of the smoke.” The Founder’s Reserve scores 87.5/100 in the Bible and the 15yo 86.5/100 so not much in it.

Getting over 82/100 on Whiskybase is a very good mark. The Founder’s Reserve scores 80.6/100. Comments for the 12yo include “very solid uncommercial style and very nice strength for a standard bottling”, “well crafted….perfect daily dram” and “overall it’s good, enjoyable and showing complexity”.

The Glen Garioch 12yo is a hearty Highland hidden gem that’s well worth seeking out.

Here’s the Whisky Bitch with her thoughts on YouTube about the Glen Garioch 12yo (May 2012):

Blackpool Trams (Glen Albyn) 12-year-old ‘Dreadnought No.59’

Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 10th January 2017

Ratings:
None I can find.

It took me a while to find out that this miniature is by the independent bottler ‘Signatory’. They’re not mentioned on the label but sometimes the bottle appears at auction in a Signatory box (mine didn’t). It was bottled in 1993 as number 2 of a series of four tram-themed miniatures for ‘The Wee Dram’ in Blackpool. I’ve been unable to find out what ‘The Wee Dram’ was but I’m assuming it was a shop, or possibly a pub. It’s not the current ‘Wee Dram’ shop located 90 miles away in Bakewell because that only dates back to 1998.

Although I’ve been unable to find a review about this specific bottle I have a similar mini Glen Albyn 12yo by Signatory bottled in 1993. Unfortunately it doesn’t fair very well where a reviewer says “one of those notorious bad casks of Signatory in the past.” It makes you realise that some whisky has more value in a collection than to a whisky drinker.

The four trams in the series of miniatures were:

No.1 – Longmorn 12yo ‘Blackpool Trams standard car no.40’ (on Whiskybase here)
No.2 – Glen Albyn 12yo ‘Blackpool Trams Dreadnought No.59’
No.3 – Glenury Royal 14yo ‘Bolton Tram no.66’ (on Whiskybase here)
No.4 – Glenturret 14yo ‘Edinburgh Car’

Although this was billed at ‘series 1’ there wasn’t a second series. A list of Signatory miniatures including the Tram series can be found here.

Macallan ‘Twenties’

Bought: Heathrow Airport, 2004/05

Ratings:
67/100 – Whisky Bible 2006
83.88/100 – Whiskybase (average from 54 member votes)
78/100 – Malt Maniacs (average from 9 maniac votes)

Status: Long since discontinued

I bought this bottle of Macallan ‘Twenties’ for my father’s 81st or 82nd birthday in 2004 or 2005. I can’t remember the exact year mostly because he’s had so many birthdays! He has his 94th this year but I wont be buying him any more whisky. Not long after I got him this Macallan he confessed that he didn’t really like whisky. Nobody had realised. He got at least 5 bottles for his 80th birthday. So the good news has been that my brother and I got to try this Macallan, so every cloud has a silver lining!

Macallan began introducing the Macallan ‘Decades’ series in 2001 and in 2004 they added this version of the ‘Twenties’ to represent the flavour of Macallan in the 1920s. Not that my father was drinking Macallan when he was born in 1923. As a Scottish baby they don’t start you on whisky until you’re at least 5. Ultimately there were 4 bottles in the series representing the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

Although I quite like this Macallan, according to Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible of 2006 the ‘Twenties’ was his least favourite decade. 67/100 classifies it as “very unimpressive indeed” and Mr Murray says “Does absolutely nothing for me at all. Totally off-key, no finish. Nothing roaring about this one.” He scores the 1930s 91/100, the 1940s gets 81/100 and 1950s does best with 92/100.

The Malt Maniacs are a bit more complimentary with a reasonable mark of 78/100 but nearly 84/100 on Whiskybase from 54 votes is a very good score. Nevertheless comments are very up and down ranging from “a perfect recreation from the 1920s” to “not very good”. Expert sipper and reviewer Mark Dermul who scores the ‘Twenties’ 77/100 says “I am not really impressed. Too dry and a tad too sour to my taste.” And leaves the following tasting notes:

Nose: The sherry is immediately present on the nose. Apricots, oranges, pineapple, blackberries. Quite dry, to be honest. A bit of chocolate. Mild smokiness. Soft woodspice.
Taste: The attack is soft and gently spiced. Again all sweet sherry. The fruit is now of the dried variety. Chocolate returns. Does turn a bit sour, now.
Finish: The finish is soft and warm with a hint of nuts.

Speyside Cooperage 10-year-old

Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 10th January 2017

Ratings:
75.67/100 – Whiskybase (average from 3 member votes)

The Speyside Cooperage 10yo is a mystery malt from one of the many Speyside distilleries. Although I bought my miniature from an online auction I suspect the original place it was sold was the cooperage shop in Craigellachie, Banffshire. Apparently it’s the only cooperage in Scotland with a visitor centre. Speyside Cooperage is listed on Trip Advisor with a rating of 4.5/5 from 284 reviews so clearly a lot of people enjoy going there. The cooperage was founded in 1947 and has branches in Alloa, Kentucky and Ohio.

Looking through my miniature bottle to the back of the label I can see the code ‘AA/JIHH’. If this is a Gordon & MacPhail code (which I assume it is) then I know the ‘AA’ means it was bottled in 2011. A bottling from 2016 has the following tasting notes on Whiskybase:

Nose: spicy, mild, malty whisky with a touch of peat. Becomes richer with time.
Taste: Same as the nose. Creamier and sweeter into the finish
Finish: A touch of peat then leaning towards malty toasted-ness with some green-ish notes.

It receives the comment “a decent malt at a decent price”. Hopefully my miniature is similar but there’s no guarantee that Gordon & MacPhail have used the same Speyside distillery over the years. That’s all part of the mystery!

 

Dunglass (Littlemill) 5-year-old

Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 10th January 2017

Ratings:
77/100 – Whiskybase (average from 5 member votes)
69/100 – Malt Maniacs (average from 5 maniac votes)

Dunglass was the name given to an experimental whisky produced for one year in 1967 at the Littlemill distillery. Whiskybase only list 4 independent bottlings of Dunglass from 1967 and two distillery 5-year-olds labelled ‘Pure Malt’. As much as I’d like to think my Dunglass 5yo was bottled in 1972 as a ‘single malt’ (as it’s classified on Whiskybase) I know it’s not the rare stuff from 1967. According to one auction site that sold a Dunglass 5yo ‘Pure Malt’ (old term for a blend) it was bottled in the 1990s. I also discovered online (so it’s bound to be true) that ‘Dunglass’ was a name used by Amalgamated Distilled Products (ADP) when selling whisky in Italy. ADP bought the Littlemill distillery in 1982. So, joining the dots, I’d say the Dunglass 5yo is a blend from the 1980s/90s that used a trading name inherited from purchasing the Littlemill distillery. If anyone else knows more please comment below.

Just when I thought I’d got it sorted out I see the Malt Maniacs classify the Dunglass 5yo as a single malt from the 1970s. AAARGH!!! But one of the maniacs, Serge Valentin, says he isn’t 100% sure it’s the experimental Littlemill from 1967. So I stand by what I said, that this is a more recent whisky, unfortunately.

Scoring 77/100 on Whiskybase is a below-average score. One voter who scores it 62/100 leaves these notes, “Grass and freshly cut barley. First you have the feeling of pleasant sweetness on the tongue, but after a short time oily bitter notes come to the fore. For me, this very young Littlemill bottling is little attractive, perhaps this is the reason why there are not very many bottles available?”

Clearly this dram is more of a talking point than for drinking. It may not be the original Dunglass of 1967 but it keeps the memory alive. By all accounts the original Dunglass single malt wasn’t very good, which explains why the experiment only lasted a short time.

Tasting notes, Serge Valentin, Whiskyfun.com:
Nose: light and very grainy, as expected. Gets quite grassy (hay, heavily sugared iced tea). Dried flowers, caramel, hints of praline.
Mouth: aromatically weak, sweetish… Hints of lavender ice cream, pear juice, apple juice.
Finish: rather long, and slightly peppery

Incidentally, Dunglass is a hamlet in the lowlands of Scotland, south of Edinburgh, with a coast on the North Sea. Dunglass Castle is a ruin, constructed between 1400-1542. Obviously there wasn’t any urgency in medieval Scotland to build affordable housing. Apparently the poet Robert Burns said of Dunglass “the most romantic sweet place I ever saw” when visiting in 1787. In 1919 the Usher family came to the Dunglass Estate. An ancestor, Andrew Usher, co-founded the North British Distillery, which is a grain distillery still active today. Andrew Usher is sometimes referred to as the “father of Scotch Whisky” because he perfected the eventual blending of whisky, which he started in the 1840s. This is probably why ‘Dunglass’ was chosen as a whisky name.

Islay Mist 8-year-old

Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 10th January 2017

Ratings:
86.33/100 – Whiskybase (average from 3 member votes)

My auction miniature of the Islay Mist blend is certainly old but whether it’s the version mentioned on Whiskybase from the 1960s is debatable. I chose the rating because it’s the only one listed of seven versions of the 8yo that matches the text on my label saying “a unique blend of SCOTCH WHISKY” as opposed to starting “the unique blend…”

The current version of ‘Islay Mist’ is produced by MacDuff International, a blending company based in Glasgow, Scotland (established in 1992). Prior to this the blend was produced directly from the Laphroaig distillery, which is indicated on the label of my miniature as “D. Johnston & Co. (Laphroaig) Ltd.”. MacDuff International still list Islay Mist on their website as one of their whiskies along with Grand Macnish and Lauders.

MacDuff International say:
“Islay Mist Blended Scotch was originally created on the Scottish island of Islay in 1922 to celebrate the 21st birthday of Lord Margadale. It was thought that the local single malt Scotch, Laphroaig, might be too heavy for all the guests’ taste so this unique blend of Laphroaig with Speyside malts and grain whisky was born.”

Here’s the Scotch Test Dummies with their review of the modern Islay Mist 8yo (January 2017):