Bladnoch ‘Samsara’ 200th Anniversary

Bought: Master of Malt, 4th September 2017

82.7/100 – Whiskybase (average from 9 member votes)

Bladnoch distillery celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2017 and the new owner (David Prior) decided to release 3 commemorative bottles, the Samsara (NAS), Adela 15yo and Talia 25yo. Unfortunately they weren’t new because they’d already been released in 2016. The only clear difference I can see is that the re-release in 2017 now had “Celebrating 200 years” at the bottom of the bottle label. I gave my wife a food blender for our 24th wedding anniversary last year and I gave her the same blender this year with “happy 25th anniversary!” on it. I’m now single. I jest of course. 🙂

It was mostly this lazy attempt to celebrate Bladnoch’s 200th birthday that caused me to delay getting the Samsara. Not that it was likely to sell out because demand for the distillery seems quite low. Although the Samsara is NAS (non-age statement) it’s said to be over 8-years-old as the last spirit distilled at the distillery was in 2008. The 2016 release scored 79/100 on Whiskybase from 30 member votes so 82.7/100 for the 2017 is a clear improvement. Although both are 46.7% (a good strength) the 2017 version is matured in Californian red wine and bourbon casks. Maturation isn’t mentioned for the 2016 edition, so perhaps there’s a difference there. If nothing else the Samsara 2017 could have 9-year-old whisky as a base instead of the 8-year-old for the 2016 release.

So why did I get the Samsara? Having bought bottles to celebrate 200 years of Lagavulin and Laphroaig it didn’t seem right not to support Bladnoch and its ‘rebirth’ (the meaning of the word ‘Samsara’). Not only that but reviews have improved for the Samsara and for just over £60 this 8yo+ comes in a beautiful decanter-style bottle and sturdy display box. Both reviews left on Master of Malt consider the Samsara to be good value for money although I notice the price has increased to over £70. Tut tut!

Tasting notes from Bladnoch:

Nose: Quite concentrated, fruit compote, with plums, vanilla and orange blossom.
Palate: A sweet winey start, then drying slightly before more plums and vanilla flavours, some citrus and a malty core. Nicely structured.
Finish: Mellow and winey with a spicy, lingering tail.

Here’s Horst Luening of with his thoughts on YouTube (July 2017):


Glendronach 12-year-old ‘Original’

Bought: Auriol Wines, 1st September 2017

83.79/100 – Whiskybase (average from 906 member votes)
87/100 – Ralfy (of
4/5 – Master of Malt (from 54 reviews)

The fact that the Glendronach 12yo has over 900 votes on Whiskybase is testament to how loved this dram is by whisky enthusiasts. Comments include “definitely worth recommending for those looking for a good introduction into the intense flavors of red fruits” and “this malt is a keeper of consistently high quality”. It may only be 12 years old and 43% but the maturation in both Pedro Ximénez & Oloroso casks bestows ‘sherry bomb’ qualities, all for a very reasonable price.

Scoring 4/5 on Master of Malt is very good and comments from 2017 include, “one of the best non cask-strength sherry casks I’ve ever had”, “smoother than Macallan 12 but with similar notes” and “good dram for the uninitiated to try”.

My exact bottle with code ‘LK11116’ isn’t on Whiskybase yet but I’ll add the link when it appears. The ‘LK’ part suggests it was bottled in 2016, which means it was distilled after Glendronach reopened in 2001. For those of you with Jim Murray’s ‘Whisky Bible 2018’ his review of the Glendronach 12yo ‘Original’ was added in 2011 and refers to a bottle distilled before Glendronach closed in 1995. Hence why I haven’t included his score. If he updates his review I’ll be sure to come back and add his comments.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Rich cereals, struck match, raisin, cinnamon, caramelised sugar. Opens with some sweeter PX and lots of delicious raw ginger before becoming creamier with hazelnuts.
Palate: Fruits, peels, buttery. Pain au chocolat, a little marmalade on toast before becoming firmer and nuttier with spiced raisins.
Finish: Smoky toffee and nut brittle.

Here’s Ralfy on YouTube with his review of the Glendronach 12yo (June 2016):

Glen Scotia ‘Double Cask’

Bought: Auriol Wines, 1st September 2017

85.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
82.6/100 – Whiskybase (average from 125 member votes)
4.5/5 – Master of Malt (average from 20 reviews)

When I think of ‘Glen Scotia’ I remember the dumpy green bottles of 8-year-old from the 1970s, or the colour-coated bottles when I started collecting whisky in 2013. I quite liked the look of the black 12yo, green 15yo, blue 18yo and burgundy 21yo but the poor ratings stopped me for buying any of them. The general consensus seemed to be that Glen Scotia had made a flavour and marketing boo-boo.

You wouldn’t think that NAS (non-age statement) would be the best direction for the Campbeltown distillery to go but that’s what happened with the arrival of the ‘Double Cask’ in 2015. It was a bit of a gamble but it seems to have paid off. Scoring 85.5/100 in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible classifies this dram as ‘very good to excellent whisky, definitely worth buying’. He summarises with “soft and easy drinking with an excellent early delivery spike of intensity. But a dull middle and finish. And dull has never been a word I have associated with this distillery. Ever.”

Scoring 82.6/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score with comments of “whoever likes the modern “designed” whisky style will probably enjoy this dram”, “nice daily dram, but not overly spectacular”, “a good whisky if a little vague” and “very fine Glen Scotia for around 40 EUR. Surprisingly good and affordable.”

From my own tasting of the Glen Scotia ‘Double Cask’ I can honestly say I like it. It’s certainly subtle but you wouldn’t expect anything else for the price. I enjoyed the “excellent early delivery” Jim Murray mentioned but then I got hit by that unique Campbeltown flavour on the palate. It’s not as intense as the Springbank 10yo but it’s there and very enjoyable. If I drank Campbeltown whisky regularly it wouldn’t seem that special but, as an occasional dram from a distinct Scottish region, the Glen Scotia is delightful.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Vibrant fruit emerges first (peach flesh and green apple peels), followed by chewy vanilla fudge, a hint of salinity, then an array of oak-y spices including some char.
Palate: Opens with more fudge with a little dusting of powdered sugar. Powerful, oily and a touch herbaceous with some German brandy character.
Finish: Sherried notes come through more on the finish.

Here’s Horst Luening of with his thoughts about the Glen Scotia on YouYube (Aug 2015):

Highland Park ‘Shiel’

Bought: Highland Park online shop, 17th August 2017

84.89/100 – Whiskybase (average from 20 member votes)

The ‘Shiel’ is the second bottle in the Keystones Series, which started with the release of the ‘Hobbister’ in 2016. Both releases were limited to 1200 bottles and offered to the Highland Park ‘Inner Circle’ to gobble up as fast as possible. I missed out on the Hobbister in 2016 when I thought I’d joined the Inner Circle only to realise I hadn’t. Even when you manage to become a member you have to be careful to read emails from HP thoroughly and follow links and instructions to the letter.

The Shiel was released at a similar time to the Royal Mile Whisky Shop announcing their entrance into the auction market. They caused quite a stir by having an ‘ethics’ list on their new auction website which included, “Royal Mile Whisky Auctions will not accept for auction any limited edition whiskies within one year of release” and “whisky fans know that prices are not being artificially driven up, especially those new releases being ‘flipped’ immediately after release.” Will this stop Flippers from simply buying limited edition whiskies for a quick profit? No because they’ll just wait a year then sell. Not that I’ve seen any other auction house joining this crusade against flipping. It’s been over a year since the Hobbister was released and bottles are making £300 at auction having been flipped initially for around £350 before dipping to £200. Bottles of Shiel are making £250 so not as profitable for the Flippers as the Hobbister but still a good return for £81, even after auction costs.

For those of us who are actually interested in drinking the Shiel, which is what it was designed for, initial ratings are very good. Scoring nearly 85/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score but lagging behind the Hobbister, which gets 88/100 from 12 member votes.

Tasting notes from Highland Park for the Shiel:

Nose: Unashamedly smoky, camphor, eucalyptus, violets and vanilla
Palate: Dry peatiness, pencil shavings with light vanilla
Finish: Dry and lingering peatiness

BenRiach 10-year-old

Bought: Auriol Wines, 11th August 2017

87.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
81.75/100 – Whiskybase (average from 129 member votes)
88/100 – Ralfy (of

When my interest in whisky was rekindled in 2013 it came with an inherited love of Highland Park, Scapa, Talisker, Macallan and Linkwood. These were whiskies my uncles introduced me to, which I like but I felt it was important to try new things and discovered what truly tickles my palate. In the last 4 years I’ve tasted many great whiskies and BenRiach is right up there with them. I’d still say that Scapa and Talisker are in my top 5 but Springbank, Bunnahabhain and the outstanding Aberlour A’bunadh are fighting Highland Park, Macallan and Linkwood hard. Glendronach and BenRiach are knocking at the door of my affections, and they’re always a pleasure to sip.

Ralfy recently reviewed the BenRiach 10yo and gave it a fantastic 88/100. This is very similar to Jim Murray’s score of 87.5/100 in his Whisky Bible, which classifies this single malt as ‘very good to excellent whisky, definitely worth buying’. Jim Murray says, “a much fatter spirit than from any time when I worked those stills. The dry nose never quite decided where it is going. But there’s no doubting the creamy yet juicy credentials on the palate. Malty, with graceful fruit sugars chipping in delightfully.”

Scoring nearly 82/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score but almost what you’d expect for a 10-year-old. If I have one criticism about using a score from Whiskybase it’s that a lot of voters simply mark a whisky based on what would be expected for its age. This means that scores from experts like Ralfy and Mr Murray would get dragged down to something typical rather than exceptional.

Comments on ‘Master of Malt’ include “just classic Speyside, raisins, apples, cinnamon, oak, even a hint of peaches all work in harmony”, “really decent drop for the price”, “enjoyed this well enough, especially at 43% and non-chillfiltered” and “it’s a touch more sprightly than the 12yo but it’s somehow richer at the same time. Time and time again this distillery keeps coming up trumps.” I couldn’t agree more!

Here’s Ralfy on YouTube with his review of the BenRiach 10yo (July 2017):

Macallan 10-year-old ‘old style’ (1990s)

Source: Family Gift, late 1990s

88/100 – Whiskybase (average from 13 member votes)

This highly acclaimed Macallan 10yo was a gift from my uncle Hamish and added to the family collection in the late 1990s. I believe the style of bottling was first introduced in the mid 1990s and carried on until the launch of the ‘Fine Oak’ range in 2004. Before 2004 the standard Macallan was all ‘sherry oak’ so there wasn’t a need to make a distinction on the label. After 2004 bottles were clearly labelled either ‘Sherry Oak’ or ‘Fine Oak’.

It’s hard to believe that back in the 1990s supermarkets would sometimes discount this Macallan 10yo to less than £20. Today it typically sells at auction for about £200 and retails closer to £300. It’s good but it’s not that good. Exclusively matured in selected sherry oak casks from Jarez the box features an autumnal scene of Easter Elchies house, Craigellachie, Speyside, which is the ‘Home of the Macallan’.

Scoring 88/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score and only about a point less than what you’d expect the Macallan 18yo to get. I’ve tasted this Macallan 10yo many times and I wouldn’t say it was that good but it’s definitely a fine dram. It’s more of an 85/100 from me.

Tasting notes from ‘Ormiston Whisky’:

Nose: Matured, sherry notes, raisins, rich, vanilla, caramel, fudge, slightly pungy.
Taste: Sweet with lovely fruity layers, clear wood spices (nutmeg, cinnamon etc.) some black pepper as well.
Finish: Soothing with some tutti frutti sherry notes.

Highland Park 12-year-old ‘Viking Honour’

Bought: Tesco, 22nd May 2017

81.61/100 – Whiskybase (average from 20 member votes)

Although all that’s really changed about the Highland Park 12yo in 2017 is the bottle style, packaging and calling it ‘Viking Honour’ it’s an opportunity for new reviews to appear to discuss this classic old Orkney favourite. In fairness, distillery standards such as the HP 12yo do change over time, so we shouldn’t assume the taste and quality remains the same forever and ever. But an old reviewer’s 85/100 might be a new reviewer’s 80/100 even of the same whisky, such is the randomness of ratings.

After 1152 votes on Whiskybase the old style HP 12yo (bottled since 2007) scored a very decent 82.24/100. It’s early days yet but ‘Viking Honour’ is lagging behind slightly. As I discussed in my last blog about the HP12, the Whiskybase ratings for the previous incarnations of the HP12 have shown a consistent downward trend. Is this true or do whisky drinkers look back on old bottlings of Highland Park with nostalgia and rose-tinted glasses?

Comments for ‘Viking Honour’ on Master of Malt are quite amusing, especially if Highland Park only changed the packaging and not the whisky. We have a mixed bag of remarks – “very smooth. I liked it”, “not an improvement and a big disappointment”, “sweet with a delicate smoky after taste which all in all is very agreeable”, “rubbish compared to the original”, “very smooth and slightly peaty”, “absolutely zero smoke or peat”. Has the whisky actually changed or is this a case of unreliable taste buds?

Tasting notes from Master of Malt, which interestingly don’t mention any smoke or peat but I believe these notes have not been updated since the previous HP12:

Nose: Fresh, clean and very aromatic. Floral notes abound the senses with a light grassiness. Notes of creamy Manuka honey and a touch of juicy citrus with cream and a well-balanced sweetness.
Palate: Rather full with a pleasant depth. Lurking somewhere in the substratum a grilled orange lies. Notes of granary toast and green tea with jasmine. A touch of sweetness.
Finish: Quite long with peppery spice and wood shavings.

Here’s Martin Markvardsen, senior brand ambassador for Highland Park, giving us his thoughts about the new 12yo ‘Viking Honour’. He mentions peat and smoke and talks about the new dram as if it were the typical HP 12yo profile (Sept 2017):

Scapa ‘Glansa’ Batch GL01

Bought: Auriol Wines, 11th August 2017

80.26/100 – Whiskybase (average from 33 member votes)

Scapa distillery say about the Glansa on the box and bottle, “taking our signature smooth fruity single malt, which is aged in American oak, this expression is then rested in peated casks creating richness and depth, with notes of warm, heather-honey and soft fruits giving way to a subtle smoky finish.” They also include that it’s batch GL01 and bottled in August 2016. Over a year later and there hasn’t been a new batch, unlike the Skiren released in 2015, which is now on batch 8. It looks like the Glansa is a bit of a one-off.

I saw one comment online suggesting that finishing the Glansa in peated casks (probably from Islay) was a bit of a cheat. This was a weird remark because cask finishing has been common practice for a long time and there are many examples of excellent whisky finished in peated casks. The comment also misses the point – this is a rare release from a fantastic distillery that is trying something different. Those that know the Scapa signature will also know that adding peat should harmonise well. And for Scapa fans it’s a good sign that the distillery is still alive and not close to closing down as it has done in the recent past.

Comments online include “a nice balance between the sweetness of fruit and the smoke/peat”, “delicious stuff, better than many a standard” and “better than Skiren”. The scores back up the last comment where the Skiren comes in at 79.86/100 on Whiskybase, fractionally below the Glansa. Not that there’s much in it but it sounds like the Glansa is a good addition to the history of the Scapa distillery. Long may it continue!

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Fruity sweet notes of soft peach, pineapple, vanilla intermingled with subtle bonfire smoke.
Palate: Peach and ripe flavours and creamy caramel toffee and vanilla balanced perfectly with soft smoke.
Finish: Very long with a markedly smoky finish.

Here’s Horst Luening of with his thoughts about the Scapa Glansa (Dec 2016):

Glenmorangie 1990 ‘Grand Slam Dram’ 10-year-old

Bought: Online Auction, 10th August 2017

81.33/100 – Whiskybase (average from 3 member votes)

Rugby – something Scotland used to be good at. It’s sad that there are young Scottish adults walking the earth today that weren’t born when Scotland was a proud rugby country. Scotland haven’t won the Nations Championship since 1999, the year before Italy were asked to join to make it the ‘6 Nations Championship’ that we have today. Perhaps the Scots are allergic to Italians? The ‘Grand Slam’ is where a team manages to win the championship by beating all the other teams. The last time Scotland achieved this was in 1990, finishing on the 17th March with a 13-7 win against England at Murrayfield in Edinburgh. I watched it on TV and enjoyed every minute of it, except the England try, which was definitely offside!

After the dust had settled in 1990 Glenmorangie decided to release a commemorative version of their standard 10yo. On the reverse label it includes the signatures of the victorious Scottish team. Scoring just over 81/100 on Whiskybase is what you’d expect for a 10-year-old Glenmorangie from that period. Personally I’d rate it higher at about 85/100 but then I am a big fan of the Glenmorangie 10yo from the early to mid 90s, even though it’s 40% rather than the 43% of the modern incarnation.

I rarely give investment tips but here’s one for the ‘Grand Slam Dram’. As far as I can tell the bottle wasn’t originally sold with any packaging. The majority of bottles sold at auction come without any and typically make about £80. I noticed that some cunning person had paired their ‘Grand Slam Dram’ bottle with a tube from roughly the right period, which sold for £160. It goes to show that people are prepared to pay extra for packaging (weird – I know!). I bought my bottle for £80 and picked up an empty tin from the early 1990s from Ebay for £5. I can’t guarantee I’ll double my money if I ever sell it because auctions can be fickle but I’ll definitely make a profit on the tin.

Here’s a 15-minute documentary from 2010 to mark 20 years since the final Grand Slam match between Scotland and England, Murrayfield, 17th March 1990:

Glenlochy 1980 25-year-old (Signatory)

Bought: Online Auction, 10th August 2017

89.38/100 – Whiskybase (average from 18 member votes)

Glenlochy distillery, Inverlochy, Fort William, began production in 1901 and closed completely in 1983. During those 82 years the distillery had been closed several times meaning it had only been active for about 60 years. Unfortunately the closure in 1983 was the end of the distillery and the buildings were eventually converted into a guesthouse and flats. When active all the Glenlochy spirit went into blends, which were Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s, Haig, White Horse and Queen Ann. It’s only after the distillery closed in 1983 and casks were sold off that they start to be bottled as single malt. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society released the earliest bottling mentioned on Whiskybase in 1988.

Scoring almost 90/100 from 18 votes on Whiskybase is a fantastic mark. It’s nice to know when you’re spending a small fortune on a single malt that it’s the equal to a classic Macallan or illustrious Ardbeg. But to be fair to the Glenlochy, the distillery may have closed 34 years ago but this amazing bottle cost less at auction than a new Macallan 18yo would today. Only 229 bottles were produced of this rare Glenlochy and I have bottle number 104. Tasting notes provided on Whiskybase from a member scoring this Glenlochy 91/100 with the comment, “unique and characterful” are:

Nose: Sweet, mineral, fresh, herbs, grassy, caramel
Taste: Fruity (apples, oranges, pears, peaches), fresh, herbs, dry, caramel, honey
Finish: Long, sweet, spicy, herbs, caramel, nutty

John “Whiskyman” Loftus in his video below is drinking a Glenlochy, which was also distilled in 1980 but 24-years-old rather than 25. Bottled by Duncan Taylor at a cask strength of 61.2% it scores 89.8/100 on Whiskybase from 22 votes. This is a very similar score to my Glenlochy 25yo by Signatory so clearly they’re both good examples from the distillery. John also gives us a bit of history about the distillery.