Crawford’s ‘5 Star’

Bought: Aberdeen Whisky Shop, 30th March 2017

Ratings:
90/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)

When I watch the Whisky Hunter on YouTube I’ve been stunned by how many amazing finds he’s made. It seems that every garage sale or backwater off license in America harbours a classic whisky at a ridiculously low price. Why can’t the UK be the same? It’s possibly because bourbon is the big thing in America and single malts and blends get neglected. More people in the UK want and recognise a vintage whisky so it’s rare to see one languishing on a shop shelf for years.

I found this bottle of Crawford’s 5 Star in the Aberdeen Whisky Shop. They’d recently bought it from a private seller so it hadn’t been sitting on the shelf for long. Priced at £50 I did some research and discovered that bottles can sell at auction for over £100 but also less than £40 depending on age and condition. This particular version dates from the 1980s, which appears to be the last decade the 5 Star was produced, although it might have crept into the 1990s. A whisky auction site says “A & A Crawford was a whisky blender and merchant which established in Leith in 1860, now belonging to Whyte and Mackay’s portfolio. The deluxe 5 Star Blend that was launched in the 1920s, now discontinued, followed the success of the 3 star offering.” The Whisky Exchange are selling a bottle of 5 Star from the 1950s for £350.

I don’t think discovering this bottle of Crawford’s has turned me into a whisky hunter because £50 is probably all it’s worth. The reason I bought it was because of the great reviews it gets for flavour. 90/100 on Whiskybase is a fantastic score, albeit from only 2 member votes. Ben of ‘A Dram A Day’ is also very impressed. Here are his thoughts about the Crawford’s 5 Star on YouTube (Sept 2016):

Skibhoul Stores, Sandisons Ltd, Unst, 5yo Blend

Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 24th May 2017

Ratings:
None.

This 5-year-old deluxe blended Scotch whisky was bottled for Skibhoul Stores, Sandisons Ltd, on the small island of Unst in Shetland. It might seem like a crazy auction purchase and you’d be absolutely right. My justification is sentimental because the majority of my family come from Shetland. I don’t expect this to be great whisky, and the packaging and label are basic in the extreme but for £13 I’m not complaining. This Unst blend has the same caramel colour and age as the Glen Orchy 5yo from Lidl so if it tastes similar I’ll be very happy. But it will probably get the lemonade treatment as most of my budget blends do.


(Above – Skibhoul Stores, Unst, Shetland)

If Unst sounds familiar it’s because the island is also the location for the Shetland Distillery Company (Saxa Vord distillery) who are destined to be the first whisky distillery in Shetland. They produce a blended whisky but are currently most famous for their Shetland Reel gin. In 2015 they bottled a Glenglassaugh cask after storing it in Shetland for a while so it could be the first single malt from the islands, even though it was distilled elsewhere. It was a bit of a publicity stunt but I fell for it and got a bottle. Well I had to, didn’t I!

According to online company records Sandisons Ltd began life in 2006 so the blend for the Unst store isn’t very old even if the packaging belongs in the 1970s. Scoring 4.5/5 from 22 reviews on Trip Advisor the Skibhoul Stores are highly thought of by locals and visitors alike:

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g551832-d2620367-Reviews-Skibhoul_Stores-Baltasound_Unst_Shetland_Islands_Scotland.html

Whisky collections all deserve a few obscure bottles and this is certainly one of mine!

Macallan ‘Amber’

Bought: Waitrose, 13th May 2017

Ratings:
78/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
78.22/100 – Whiskybase (average from 400 member votes)

I would never have bought the Macallan Amber if I hadn’t thought I’d secured a bottle of Ruby on Amazon. Unfortunately 3 months after I’d placed my order Amazon deleted it but by then I’d bought the Amber to go with the Gold thinking I’d only need the Sienna to complete the ‘colour’ set. Since it now seems impossible to get the discontinued Ruby for less than £200, which puts it out of my reach, will I bother getting the Sienna? Hmmm.

So I’m stuck with the Amber. Just as well I’m a fan of the Macallan profile in whatever form because the Amber has rarely done well in reviews. 78/100 from Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible 2015 classifies the Amber as “average, and usually pleasant though sometimes flawed”. In fairness his review is quite favourable, “the texture alone shows this should be something truly special. The first few moments of delivery likewise, with its astonishing Locket’s honey filling; honey is the unambiguous theme throughout. But the tangy presence of a few sub-standard sherry butts undermine some great work in the lab. I suspect the next bottling might be a corker.” Unfortunately we’ll never know because the review disappeared in 2016 and hasn’t reappeared since. Perhaps Mr Murray hasn’t retried the Amber, or he didn’t consider it worth another sip.

78.22/100 on Whiskybase is a so-so score bordering on ‘below average’ but the Gold scores an almost identical 78.19/100. As an experienced Macallan drinker I like the Gold and Jim Murray scores it 89.5/100. The Sienna, the next colour up in the series from the Amber, scores over 84/100 on Whiskybase so it’s considered a significant step up in quality. I’m still tempted to get the Sienna because several reviews have suggested it’s better than the Ruby and the best colour in the series. Comments on Whiskybase about the Amber include “Not bad this. It had quite a bit more flavour to it than the Gold, and was on the whole quite pleasant. It had quite a bit of bitterness and spiciness to it but in a refreshing kind of way.” And “Barely a step up from the Gold. A little more flavour but largely wood tannins and acetone.”

Tasting notes from Master of Malt (where it scores 3/5 stars from 31 votes):

Nose: Soft aromatic vanilla, lemon and barley with hints of ginger. Milk chocolate buttons and hints of Sun-Maid Raisins.
Palate: Surprisingly thick and fruity compared to the nose. Golden sultanas, dates, apple peelings and a dusting of cinnamon. Cereal notes on the mid-palate, joined by mince pies with crumbly shortbread.
Finish: Fragrant oak finish, with the mince pie notes lingering.

Here’s Jack Oughton with his thoughts on YouTube about the Macallan Amber (January 2015):

Highland Park ‘Valkyrie’

Bought: The Whisky Exchange, 11th May 2017

Ratings:
86.82/100 – Whiskybase (average from 64 member votes)

Highland Park have obviously decided it was time for a change and 2017 sees the start of a new design for their label and packaging across their core range and the new ‘Valkyrie’. And I love it! Unfortunately it makes the old bottles look rather plain and dated, like having a modern car sitting beside a Ford Granada. But the old design has been kicking around for about 10 years and was clearly in need of an update. The new look pushes further towards Orkney’s Nordic ancestry, and the nipped-in waist of the bottle suggests many hours in the gym working on those obliques!

The Valkyrie replaces the ‘Dark Origins’ and begins a series of 3 new bottles to appear over the next 3 years. Already the Valkyrie is over 2 points ahead of the Dark Origins on Whiskybase, which is very impressive. Comments for the Valkyrie include, “quite weird HP with heavily peated. I like it. The weakness is the finish.” And “Not a bad HP after all, very mineral with a rather short finish.” But someone on ‘Master of Malt’ says “lingering finish” where the Valkyrie scores 4/5 stars from 6 reviews. On ‘The Whisky Exchange’ it scores 5/5 stars from 6 reviews with comments of “a fantastic rounded dram” and “near perfection”.

Although some reviewers find the Valkyrie underwhelming (especially the finish), the majority are very impressed with this new offering from Highland Park. With 250,000 bottles and a reasonable price tag of £55, it’s a good start for a new series, which will include Valknut and Valhalla in 2018 and 2019.

Tasting notes from ‘Master of Malt’:

Nose: Chocolate and some nutmeg off the bat before the smoke develops, balanced by dried apricot, plum and, increasingly, zesty orange too.
Palate: Plump dried fruits are complimented by vanilla, dried apple and waves of smoke and wood spice.
Finish: Liquorice and more fruit too, plus a return of some chocolatey notes.

Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts on YouTube about the Highland Park Valkyrie (June 2017):

Glenallachie ‘Distillery Edition’

Bought: Morrisons, 8th May 2017

Ratings:
82.33/100 – Whiskybase (average from 3 member votes)

You can tell that the whisky industry is booming when distilleries primarily used for blending start producing single malts. We had the Tamnavulin ‘Double Cask’ last year and now the Glenallachie ‘Distillery Edition’. Both appeared in UK supermarkets and were instantly discounted from their RRP of £32 (which they’re not worth) to the low £20s. Both are NAS (no-age statement) but in fairness to the Glenallachie it’s doing better than the Tamnavulin with regards to reviews. 82.33/100 on Whiskybase is an extremely good mark, albeit from only 3 votes so far.

The ‘Distillery Edition’ is doing equally well over on Master of Malt with 4.5/5 stars from 2 votes. Comments include “definitely found my new dram” and “the nose for me is a spirity flapjack, a palate of spicy apples with a warm long lasting finish. A smooth tasting treat!”

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Caramel-dipped apples and pears, with hints of brown sugar and digestive biscuits.
Palate: Oodles of vanilla, with a zesty kick of fresh citrus at the centre.
Finish: Fruity esters last long on the finish.

There are no specific YouTube reviews yet for the Glenallachie ‘Distillery Edition’ but here is Ben of ‘A Dram A Day’ covering the distillery’s history before reviewing another example of Glenallachie single malt:

Bowmore 9-year-old

Bought: Amazon, 1st December 2016

Ratings:
83.14/100 – Whiskybase (average from 156 member votes)
81/100 – Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com)

Independent bottlers have been happily putting sub-10yo age statements on bottles for years but it’s not something you commonly see from distilleries. As aged stock started to run out we’ve seen more and more NAS (non-age statement) bottles creeping onto the market from distilleries, which have usually been met with disdain and disgust from the whisky drinking community. Personally I don’t see what’s wrong with putting 9yo, or 8yo, or even 5yo on a bottle, and clearly Bowmore agree with me. Releases in 2016, the Bowmore 9-year-old, matured in sherry casks, comes in under 10-years-old but has been applauded for its honesty. Well done Bowmore!

Scoring over 83/100 on Whiskybase is a very good mark. Comments include “I do like the young age which gives it some more edges and spices in comparison to the 15yo Darkest” and “a very respectable dram that I look forward to returning to. It’s not going to set the world on fire, but I would certainly consider recommending it to someone looking to try a sherry-peat combination without breaking the bank”.

Tasting notes from whisky expert Mark Durmel:

Nose: Sherried nose with all kinds of fruit like oranges, figs and nuts. Some burnt coffee beans and wet newspaper. Soft peat. Not very outspoken in my opinion. Kind of docile.
Taste: The body is quite alright and on the palate it turns quite maritime as well. A lot of peat and salt precede the mildly drying wood and sweet fruit. The sherry cask – very prominent on the nose – does not stand a chance on the palate. I get some tobacco and cloves, but this young malt has little else on offer.
Finish: Medium long finish, that leaves the mouth dry.

81/100 maybe a low mark from Ralfy (his 25 minute You Tube review here) but at least he considers it worthy of a video. Bang for buck, this Bowmore certainly seems like a winner.

Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the Bowmore 9yo (Feb 2017):

Glen Garioch 2011 Carn Mor Strictly Limited 5yo

Bought: Aberdeen Whisky Shop, 27th March 2017

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

I do love the Aberdeen Whisky Shop. It’s a nice wee shop in my home town with great staff but….OMG, the website! It’s been sitting there with one page saying, “online shop coming soon” since about 2013. But this is a perfect example of how crazy the whisky market has gone in recent years. The statement “you must be online to make money” doesn’t apply to whisky. If you have a shop in the centre of Scotland’s third largest city you get enough walk-in trade to make ‘online’ become ‘on hold’ until market forces change. But it is frustrating if you find the Aberdeen Whisky Shop online and you don’t live anywhere near the city. At least they give regular updates about new stock via their Facebook page.

I hadn’t intended on buying this Glen Garioch but I was in the shop, it was there, and the rest is history. Generally I’m not a fan of immature whisky but after visiting Glen Garioch in 2016 I was keen to get more examples from the distillery. Distilled in 2011 and bottles in 2017 this 5-year-old was limited to 665 bottles. It has no added colour, and it’s non-chillfiltered but it’s a shame it isn’t cask strength. I suppose it’s a lot to ask for a mere £36 and 46% is a decent enough potency. Definitely one to be drunk as I don’t see this making much as an investment. The bottles aren’t individually numbered and it comes from 2 bourbon barrels rather than single cask. There’s no box and the label is very basic, which all says, “drink me” rather than “keep me for 10 years then sell me”. The independent bottlers Morrison & Mackay that make this whisky certainly know their marketing.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Coconut, white oak spice, vanilla-forward barley.
Palate: Freshly cut grass, mint leaf and more sweet coconut notes.
Finish: Soft citrus and toasty oak.

Glen Garioch 1997 ‘Batch 12’

Bought: Glen Garioch Distillery Shop, 12th September 2016

Ratings:
89.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
82.82/100 – Whiskybase (average from 24 member votes)

I bought this bottle of Glen Garioch from the distillery shop following my tour in September 2016. My blog about this visit can be found here. Initially I fancied buying a hand-filled bottle but at £135 a pop it seemed rather extravagant. The pre-packaged 1997 ‘Batch 12’ was a more pocket friendly £51. Bottled in 2012 it’s 14-15 years old and cask strength at 56.7%. I’d seen it at airports and online so I knew it wasn’t very exclusive but I wanted a memento of my visit and 1997 was a significant year for Glen Garioch. The distillery fell silent in 1995 but started production again in 1997 so a bottle from that year celebrates the rebirth of a historic and treasured Aberdeenshire business.

Scoring 89.5/100 in the Whisky Bible classifies this dynamic dram from Glen Garioch as a ‘very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying’. It’s only 0.5 points away from being ‘brilliant’ according to the author, Jim Murray. His review consists of “I have to say: I have long been a bit of a voice in the wilderness among whisky professionals as to regards this distillery. This not so subtly muscled malt does my case no harm whatsoever.”

Reaching nearly 83/100 on Whiskybase suggests a very good single malt. Comments about the Glen Garioch 1997 include “very tasty, nice bourbon-barrel whisky”, “I liked it a lot” and “a very clean and fresh Glen Garioch, on sweet barley and tasting rather young”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt (where it’s still available for £75.65):

Nose: Creamy and sweet, with notes of vanilla ice cream and banana fritters.
Palate: A kick of cinnamon and pepper, but this remains firmly in ‘caramel and orchard fruit’ country.
Finish: Apple turnovers dusted with brown sugar.

Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about this Glen Garioch 1997 (August 2015):

Bunnahabhain 9-year-old (SMWS 10.93)

Bought: SMWS, 6th May 2016

Ratings:
88/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)

Those who have read my SMWS Review (Scotch Malt Whisky Society) wont be surprised to hear that this Bunnahabhain will be my last ever SMWS bottle in my collection. Although the majority of what this illustrious independent bottler produce is excellent it was their customer service that let them down and I allowed my membership to expire last year. Nevertheless the opportunity to get a cask-strength Bunnahabhain was too good to resist, so I purchased 10.93 entitled ‘Sweet but Dangerous’ before leaving the society.

I love the standard 46.3% bottling of the Bunnahabhain 12yo, perhaps a little too much, which is why this 9yo by the SMWS failed to impress me. The distillery’s 12yo is mature, refined, smooth and well crafted. Unfortunately this 9yo has none of those qualities and at 61.8% it was very difficult to tame. Maybe I didn’t get the water right, or perhaps it will improve over time as it sits in an open bottle. It wasn’t bad but I wouldn’t go as far as scoring it 88/100 as one member does on Whiskybase. For me it was more like an 85/100 compared to 90/100 for the standard 12yo.

Here are the tasting notes as provided by the SMWS for the Bunnahabhain ‘Sweet and Dangerous’ 9yo:

“Flavour profile: Peated

The nose took us to a beach bonfire – peat smoke, heather, gorse, salty sea air and moules marinières – but one panellist had his own barbeque in a hospital car-park. With water, we imagined coal-tar, liquorice and teriyaki-glazed ribs, an Islay High Street in winter and Dick Van Dyke’s chimney-sweep cap. The neat palate was enormous – deep smoke, chewy dark toffee, mechanics overalls, a disinfected operating theatre, hints of farmyard and pork and apple sausages roasting on a smoky barbeque. The reduced palate – liquorice and clove confectionery – sweet but dangerous (like Mary Poppins!) – and all enjoyed down-wind of an Islay pagoda.

Drinking tip: At a beach bonfire – or while watching a certain movie.”

Ardbeg ‘Kelpie’ Committee Release

Bought: Ardbeg Shop, 26th March 2017

Ratings:
86.37/100 – Whiskybase (average from 193 member votes)

Ardbeg Day is here, and so too is my blog post about the Kelpie Committee Release. This is the second year I’ve been a committee member and endured the 8am bun fight in March to secure a bottle. At least this time the Ardbeg website didn’t go into meltdown. The March release shares the same name as the June release but it’s a higher strength and much more limited in numbers. Each year the price creeps up by a few pounds. This year I paid £89 but it quickly sells out and bottles instantly start making between £130-£140 at auction. Use this knowledge for future releases to tell your partner it’s an investment 😉 but privately you know you’ll be drinking it.

Here is how the previous four ‘Ardbeg Day’ committee releases have faired on Whiskybase:

  • Dark Cove (2016) – 87.94/100 from 273 votes
  • Perpetuum (2015) – 86.72/100 from 234 votes
  • Auriverdes (2014) – 85.7/100 from 616 votes
  • Ardbog (2013) – 87.36/100 from 738 votes

After the success of the Dark Cove last year I’m not surprised that the rating for the Kelpie has dipped. With 86.37/100 it’s currently 4th out of the last 5 releases but that’s still an excellent score. Comments left on Whiskybase about the Kelpie include “rather clean and certainly not bad, but there is nothing exciting about it”, “solid whisky, with some unpolished but pleasant smells and flavours” and “a big and unapologetic Ardbeg”.

Here’s Great Drams on YouTube with their thoughts about the Ardbeg Kelpie (May 2017):