Oban Distillers Edition 2001/16

Bought: Amazon, 28th June 2017

Ratings:

82.86/100 – Whiskybase (average from 16 member votes)
5/5 Stars – Master of Malt (from 2 ratings)

There are 115 different bottles of Oban listed on Whiskybase of which 21 are by independent bottlers. Of those 21 the only one I could find that had been bottled after the mid 1990s was a release by Douglas Laing in 2013 to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Oban lifeboat station. There were only 297 bottles of this 18yo, which now sell for about £150 at auction. Diageo, who own Oban, clearly want to keep the whisky production limited and exclusive.

Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible 2017 has reviews for three different versions of the ‘Distillers Edition’ covering the 2007, 2008 and 2013 releases, which score 90/100, 91.5/100 and 87.5/100 respectively. The only other bottles of Oban he includes are the standard 14-year-old and ‘Little Bay’ with the 14yo scoring a meagre 79/100. Mr Murray clearly appreciates the extra 6-18 months the 14yo matures in Montilla Fino sherry casks to create the ‘Distillers Edition’.

Comments online for the Distillers Edition 2001/16 include, “everything you’d expect from a special edition. Fruity and satisfying in the mouth. Class act from Oban” and “this is one of the sweetest Oban I have ever tried, while the typical coastal character stayed upright.”

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Sherried peels, grassy malt and nutty brown bread. A touch of chocolate sauce in there, too.
Palate: Rich in honey and butterscotch, followed by a light whiff of smoke. Blackberry and raspberry jam.
Finish: Toasty, subtly smoky spices.

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Glendronach ‘Allardice’ 18-year-old (or is it?)

Bought: CASC, Aberdeen, 28th June 2017

Ratings:
83.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
9.5/100 – Whisky Wednesday (video review below)
0/100 – Whiskybase (awaiting votes for my exact bottling)

It would be unfair to call the Glendronach ‘Allardice’ 18yo the poor man’s Macallan 18yo ‘Sherry cask’, so I wont. But I just did. There are certainly several comparisons between the two floating around on the Internet but not recently. Not since the Macallan 18yo shot up to £300. Which leaves the Glendronach 18yo with the accolade ‘probably the best sherry cask 18yo for under £100’. It’s certainly a top contender.

You would think that gathering information about my Glendronach ‘Allardice’ would be easy until you realise that the distillery was closed in 1996 to 2001. If we assume that no whisky was produced in 1996 this means the distillery ran out of 18-year-old casks after 2013. It’s now a well documented fact that Glendronach have kept their core range going long after the age stated on the label such that bottles of Allardice contain 19yo whisky in 2014, 20yo in 2015, etc. My bottle of Allardice 18yo is dated 6th October 2016 so it’s most likely a 21yo. Perhaps reviews for the 21yo ‘Parliament’ would be more appropriate? Except the ‘Parliament’ is 48% and matured in Oloroso & Pedro Ximénez sherry casks where as the ‘Allardice’ is 46% and matured purely in Oloroso casks. They’re two different beasts!

Jim Murray’s score of 83.5/100 in his Whisky Bible dates from 2010, back when the Allardice was a genuine 18yo. Although there are currently no ratings on Whiskybase for my exact bottle the previous release from May 2016 scores 89.44/100 from 11 votes and the following release in April 2017 scores 89/100 from 7 votes. I’m confident that my bottle would be 89/100. And for comparison, the Macallan 18yo ‘Sherry Cask’ 2016 scores 88.79/100 from 59 votes. Perhaps the ‘poor man’ is actually the person who spent the small fortune on the Macallan!

Here’s Whisky Wednesday with their thoughts about the Glendronach ‘Allardice’ 18yo in May 2017, which is recent enough that it could relate to my exact bottle:

Mortlach 2006 (Càrn Mòr c.6-year-old)

Bought: Morrison & Mackay, 21st June 2017

Ratings:
81/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)
6/10 – Whisky Loving

This Mortlach 2006, 20cl, forms part of the Càrn Mòr Vintage Collection produced by the Scottish Liqueur Centre (now Morrison & Mackay) between 2009 and 2012. Distilled in 2006 and bottled in 2012 (c.6yo), it was the second 20cl to represent the year of 2006. The first was a Glentauchers issued in 2009. Mortlach 2006 is a limited edition of 720, cask 9, non-chill filtered, no added colour and 46%.

Although this small bottle of Mortlach came out in 2012 it’s still available on the Morrison & Mackay website for a mere £10. It’s also being sold at Robert Graham and Whisky Castle so it goes to show how long 720 bottles can sometimes take to sell. Perhaps it’s the presentation, 20cl size, or coming from a less known independent bottler that’s kept it lingering on the shelves for so long.

Mortlach has its fans so why hasn’t this bottle sold out? I strongly suspect it’s because of its light colour, which screams ‘refill cask’. What makes Mortlach delightful is spending time in a first-fill sherry cask, soaking up all those wonderful fruity juices and acquiring a beautifully rounded flavour. Seeing a light Mortlach doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, you just know it’s not going to be as good as it can be.

81/100 on Whiskybase from one member is a good score but 6/10 from Whisky Loving seems rather low. They say of the palate “rough notes. Citrus and some orchard fruits. Fruity and sweet. Vanilla and almost floral notes”. They also mentioned vanilla on the nose, which makes me slightly concerned that it comes from an ex-bourbon barrel. My book on distilleries, published in 2010, makes no mention of ‘vanilla’ in the house style of Mortlach and says they exclusively use ex-sherry casks. But there have been some ex-bourbon releases recently from independent bottlers that suggest Mortlach are now mixing their barrels. It’s a shame the cask type used for this Mortlach 2006 wasn’t disclosed but it is what it is. For me it’s my 24th and final bottle to complete the Càrn Mòr Vintage Collection. Phew!

The Chita, Japanese single grain

Bought: World of Whisky (Heathrow), 27th June 2017

Ratings:
79/100 – Whiskybase (average from 16 member votes)
3.6/5 – Distiller.com (average from 53 votes)

When it comes to understanding Japanese whisky distilleries and their brands I’m forever getting my Nikkas in a twist! So when I spotted this new Chita single grain I decided it was time to get my knowledge up to speed. Is ‘Chita’ a distillery or just a brand name? Well it’s a distillery founded in 1972 and owned by Suntory. As such its principal use is in Suntory blends, e.g., the Hibiki. Suntory own the Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries, which provide the single malts that blend with the Chita grain to create such products as the Hibiki ‘Harmony’.

My curiosity didn’t end there and I wondered if there were any other grain distilleries in Japan. Miyagikyo distillery, owned by Nikka, have Coffey stills used for grain distillation for Nikka malts, and the Fuji Gotemba distillery also produce grain whisky. Of the 9 distilleries in Japan, Chita appears to be the only one that’s sole purpose is to produce single grain. During my search I found two other single grain distilleries, which have sadly now closed, the Nishinomiya Distillery (closed in 1999, owned by Nikka) and Kawasaki Distillery (ceased whisky production c.2006).

The new Chita single grain whisky, 43%, has been matured in a combination of sherry, bourbon and wine casks. Reviews on Whiskybase and Distiller.com are above average with comments of “for a grain whisky, it has substantial complexity”, “a grain whisky that in my view progresses nicely from nose to finish”, “seems like a quality pour” and “if you like the sweetness and smoothness of Hibiki, this is your whisky”.

I suspect that Jim Murray, author of the ‘Whisky Bible’, reviewed this single grain for his 2016 edition when it was only available in Japan. His description and 43% volume certainly match the bottle now available in the UK. He scores it 92.5/100, which classifies it as “brilliant”.

Tasting notes from ‘Master of Malt’:

Nose: Honeydew melon, citrus and honey’d cereal.
Palate: Vanilla sponge cake and more honey. A touch of orchard blossom.
Finish: Medium length, rather zesty.

Speyside 1999 (Càrn Mòr c.13-year-old)

Bought: Morrison & Mackay, 21st June 2017

Ratings:
None as yet but listed on Whiskybase here.

This Speyside 1999 20cl forms part of the Càrn Mòr Vintage Collection produced by the Scottish Liqueur Centre (now Morrison & Mackay) between 2009 and 2012. Distilled in 1999 and bottled in 2012 (c.13yo) it was the second 20cl to represent the year of 1999. The first was a Craigellachie issued in 2009. Speyside 1999 is a limited edition of 720, cask 323, non-chill filtered, no added colour and 46%.

Although this quarter bottle was released as long ago as 2012 it’s still available for £14 from the Morrison & Mackay (M&M) website as I write this post 5 years later. Why? Possibly because not many people know about M&M or the existence of their online shop but mostly because the Speyside distillery is rather boring. The Càrn Mòr Vintage Collection releases of Macallan and Highland Park are long gone but this Speyside 20cl lingers on, unloved and not even worthy of a review on Whiskybase! But a similar 1999 to 2012 bottling by Douglas McGibbon scores 78/100, which is what I’d expect for this Càrn Mòr 20cl.

The Speyside distillery we know today is the second to bear the name. The first opened in 1895 but only lasted a decade before being closed and eventually demolished. The second incarnation began life in 1956 but spirit didn’t start being produced until 1990 some 34 years later. It wasn’t until we reached a new millennium that the first 10-year-old was released in 2001. The house style is medium-bodied, medium-sweet, malt, nutty, fruity and floral.

Hazelwood 18-year-old

Bought: World of Whisky (Heathrow), 27th June 2017

Ratings:
88/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
77/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)
90/100 – Scotch Malt Whisky

I went to the ‘World of Whisky’ shop at Heathrow airport without any intension of buying a bottle of Hazelwood 18-year-old. I was aware of its existence from previous trips and I liked its art deco styling but I only wanted a bottle of Chita, until a salesman grabbed me. He’d obviously been told to give the Hazelwood 18yo the hard sell and I was invited to have a sample. Don’t mind if I do! Granted it was very pleasant but I just wanted a bottle of Chita (Japanese single grain). I must stick to my guns! Then the salesman said they only had two bottles of the Hazelwood left and indicated that stocks were selling out everywhere. Clearly I had “sucker” written all over me. Sadly it worked and I found myself saying, “I’ll take a bottle!” A combination of sales persistence, several more whisky samples and my collector’s gullibility had been my undoing. For the same price as the new and more interesting Balvenie 14yo ‘Peated’ (£65) I’d bought myself a 50cl, 18yo blend in a fancy bottle. Well done! The moral of this story is “stick to your plan” even if a slick salesman is plying you with free whisky.

Although 77/100 on Whiskybase sounds quite average it’s only from 2 votes so far. I’ve got a feeling it will level out around 80/100 after 20 votes. Having tasted it I’d say it was more like 82/100 from me but Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible scores the Hazelwood 18yo a fantastic 88/100. This classifies it as a ‘very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying’. I don’t feel so bad about being duped out of £65 now. Jim Murray’s review consists of:

Nose: top-notch dispersal of subtle notes: walnut cream cake with a pinch of vanilla. The malt is low key but distinctly Speyside-style in its clarity, despite the odd wisp of something a little heavy.
Taste: Creamy-textured. Soft ulmo honey gives way to the thickening vanilla and toffee.
Finish: bitters slightly at the turned-up ending
Comment: until the final furry moments, a genuine little, understated, charmer

Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the Hazelwood 18yo on YouTube (July 2017):

Glen Moray 1992 (Càrn Mòr c.20-year-old)

Bought: Morrison & Mackay, 21st June 2017

Ratings:
80/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)

Glen Moray 1992 forms part of the Càrn Mòr Vintage Collection produced by the Scottish Liqueur Centre (now Morrison & Mackay) between 2009 and 2012. Distilled in 1992 and bottled in 2012, this c.20yo was the second 20cl to represent the year of 1992. The first was a Glenallachie issued in 2009. The Glen Moray 1992 is a limited edition of 480, cask PP001, non-chill filtered, no added colour and 46%.

80/100 on Whiskybase is a good score albeit from only one vote. This Glen Moray is finished in a port cask, which makes it quite unique (more so in 2012). Of the 640 releases of Glen Moray listed on Whiskybase only 6 of them have a port cask finish (although some may be missing the word “port” in their title). The earliest release is from 2009, which is a 14yo cask strength scoring 90.5/100. A distillery bottled 17yo ‘port wood finish’ at 40% scores 87.2/100 from 7 votes, which is an excellent score. I’ve got a good feeling that when more votes come in for my 20yo at 46% they will be greater than 80/100 rather than less. It seems that a Glen Moray with a bit of age goes nicely with some port maturation.

In 2018 I intend to visit the Glen Moray distillery, which is within easy walking distance of Elgin town centre. Elgin is also where the Gordon & MacPhail shop is situated so I’d better make sure I take a full wallet! Glen Moray have a ‘bottle your own’ option at the distillery shop, which is not to be missed. In recent years they’ve been quite experimental with their cask finishes. Not only port and chardonnay but also cider, which sounds intriguing!

Crown Royal ‘Northern Harvest Rye’

Bought: Drink Supermarket, 12th June 2017

Ratings:
97.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
78.24/100 – Whiskybase (average from 133 member votes)

Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible, gave his 2016 ‘World Whisky of the Year’ award to the Crown Royal ‘Northern Harvest Rye’ (NHR) but specifically to bottle code L5083 N3. My bottle is code L5098 N5, whatever that means. The 5098 sounds quite close to the 5083 Jim Murray had but the N3 and N5 might refer to completely separate stills. Perhaps still number N5 is in a different building where it only has its pipes cleaned every 6 years and shares the premises with a donkey sanctuary. Don’t ask me, I just drink this shit!

After the award Crown Royal didn’t exactly rush to put their prices up in Canada and the US, although I believe it sold out everywhere for a while. Crown Royal knew the NHR was a $22 blend, and so did their market, which wouldn’t tolerate the stuff if it doubled in price. But in the UK we got massively stung and even 20+ months later it’s hard to find the NHR for less than £100 in whisky shops. Thankfully Drink Supermarket had it for £55, which convinced me it was time to grab a bottle, even though I know it’s unlikely to blow my mind (and it should only be £20!). I haven’t tried Canadian rye so I’m killing two birds with one stone with the NHR when I taste it AND get to denounce Jim Murray as a crackpot.

As I researched this blog post I watched the Whisky Vault’s review of the NHR on YouTube. In it they mention Mark Bylok’s blog (here) where he discusses the big variation across the different releases of NHR. He reviews 4 separate batches and gives them scores of 93/100, 88/100, 82/100 and 78/100. So Jim Murray’s bottle could have been 97.5/100 but my L5098 N5 may only be 60/100, such is the inconsistency across the NHR range. Thankfully most whisky producers try harder than Crown Royal to keep a standard flavour across their batches otherwise reading reviews would be pointless. But in the case of NHR, unless you have the same batch number of the bottle being reviewed, take everything that’s said with a pinch of salt.

Here are the Scotch Test Dummies on YouTube with their thoughts about the Crown Royal NHR, which they reviewed before Jim Murray’s award. Since then a lot of reviews have been tainted by an anti-Murray bias so it’s nice to see an honest summary and an above average rating of 88/100 (Aug 2015). I’m not sure what batch it is though:

Bowmore No.1

Bought: Tesco, 25th May 2017

Ratings:
79.83/100 – Whiskybase (average from 14 member votes)

The Bowmore No.1, new in 2017, replaces the ‘Small Batch’, which appeared in 2014. Both are NAS (no age statement) and matured in bourbon casks so you have to wonder if anyone will notice the difference? The No.1, unlike the Small Batch, is exclusively aged in first-fill bourbon casks, so maturation is quicker. I hope this doesn’t mean the No.1 is younger than the Small Batch, which was young enough!

The Small Batch on Whiskybase ended up with a score of 81.5/100 after 229 votes so the No.1 is lagging behind, although it’s early days yet. Comments on Whiskybase include, “reminds me rather of a strongly diluted mixture of (too) young Laphroaig and Caol Ila” and “the sweet ashes are nothing special but nice. For me this has more than a few mistakes”. At least someone on Amazon says, “wonderful nose you can’t go wrong with Bowmore”, but another comment adds, “spend the extra for the 12yr old. You won’t regret it.” Or get the 9yo if you’re on a budget and prefer a sherry influence instead of bourbon.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Nutella on brown bread, sea salt and a hint of lemon zest.
Palate: Vanilla notes are up front and sweet (though earthy vanilla pod does appear after a minute). Plenty of coastal peat smoke.
Finish: Lingering smokiness.

Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts on YouTube about the Bowmore No.1 (May 2017):

Bell’s Decanters: Prince William’s birth (1982) and Queen’s 60th birthday (1986)

Bought: Whisky Auction, 24th May 2017

Ratings:
Birth of Prince William, 1982:
82/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)

Queen Elizabeth’s 60th Birthday 1986:
Not rated yet but listed on Whiskybase here.

Bell’s Decanters have arrived in my collection and the men in white coats are coming to take me away. Did I just go insane? But no whisky collection would be complete without one, even if the majority of people consider them to be a bit naff. This is probably why they don’t make much money at auction. I paid £11 for Prince William and £18 for the Queen’s 60th. Empty bottles sell for a similar price on Ebay. It seems weird to say they’re “yesterday’s antique” when they only appeared in the 1980s. Perhaps one day their value will bounce back but there seems to be a lot of them about. It’s time to buy them all up and smash them! Let’s reduce the numbers. I’m sure the royal family won’t mind.

The Bell’s decanter first appeared in the 1920s when it was made from blue glass and designed in a more traditional decanter shape. By the late 1930s the bottle began to take on a more bell-like appearance and was made from porcelain. By the 1950s Royal Doulton, a famous British porcelain manufacturer began making the Bell’s decanter in the brown and gold design seen in Ralfy’s video below. By 1960 Stode had taken over production and then in 1966 it was Wade of Stoke. The Christmas decanters (often seen at auction) began life in 1988, which is also the year the decanters started containing ‘Bell’s Extra Special Blended Scotch Whisky’. Prior to that it wasn’t extra special at all!

Both my examples are royal commemorative decanters, which Bell’s first produced for the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981. This was also the first time that white porcelain had been used and all the stock sold out in a matter of months. Given this fact it’s hardly surprising that Bell’s decided to continue the royal theme with a second decanter release in 1982 for the birthday of Prince William. A 3rd release in 1984 commemorated the birth of Prince Harry and a 4th and 5th release in 1986 marked Queen Elizabeth’s 60th birthday and the wedding of Prince Andrew and Miss Sarah Ferguson. Since then Bell’s have done several more regal releases.

I’ve heard Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com) describe himself as eccentric many times but he always comes across as being quite normal. Nevertheless he sometimes shows eccentricity with his purchases and he’s currently the only person I can find that’s done a review of a Bell’s decanter on YouTube. Here’s Ralfy’s decanter advice from October 2012: