Bought: World of Whisky, 2nd October 2019
85.6/100 – Whiskybase (average from 133 member votes)
At the time of writing this blog the UK is into its third week of lockdown due to the Coronavirus. I bought this ‘Travel Exclusive’ bottle of Lagavulin from Heathrow Airport during better times in October 2019. If you go onto the ‘World Duty Free’ website and search for “whisky” you’ll find 22 bottles. This used to be about 250. Heathrow’s website doesn’t include ‘World Duty Free’ in their list of open stores and the company’s website doesn’t offer an online shop as an alternative. Perhaps that’s something they need to look into to keep themselves afloat. I’m sure there will be a ‘World Duty Free’ business at airports after life returns to normal but it might not have the same owners, or the same stock. This Lagavulin 10yo could be more ‘exclusive’ than first thought.
If there’s one thing that Lagavulin do well it’s whisky. This might seem like a strange thing to say but Highland Park make fridge magnets and they’re rubbish! The Lagavulin 16yo is what got me back into whisky in 2013 so I’ve always had a soft spot for the Islay distillery. I was tempted by the Lagavulin 9yo ‘Game of Thrones’ edition but at over £60 the bottle was clearly overpriced to fleece fans of the TV series (I’ve never watched it). At £40 the Lagavulin 10yo seemed much more sensible and properly priced compared to the 16yo.
According to Whiskybase there’s not much between the Lagavulin 9yo and 10yo with scores of 85.7/100 and 85.6/100 respectively. The 9yo edges it but that’s probably because it’s 46% rather than the 43% of the 10yo. Nevertheless both are excellent scores. Comparing the 10yo with other Islay single malts of the same age we have:
- 86/100 – Ardbeg ‘Ten’
- 85.6/100 – Lagavulin 10yo
- 85.1/100 – Bruichladdich ‘The Laddie Ten’
- 83.2/100 – Laphroaig 10yo
Clearly this new Lagavulin can hold its own against other Islay 10-year-olds. Comments online agree saying “complexity while being highly drinkable”, “successful malt” and “great sippin whisky – tends towards the 16 but more crisp and lively and with quite some power despite the 43%”.
Here are the official tasting notes from Lagavulin:
Nose: mild and lightly drying. An elusive fruity tang introduces clear, fresh and cleansing top notes, with peat smoke and maritime hints of sea breezes and seaweed.
Taste: light and smooth. The taste starts sweet and salty, then heat builds in waves of glorious smoke.
Finish: still smoky, with real depth of taste and a warming spiciness
Here’s Whisky Whims with their thoughts about the Lagavulin 10yo on YouTube (Sept 2019):
Bought: World of Whisky, 1st November 2018
82/100 – Whiskybase (average from 75 member votes)
I’ve had this 1-litre ‘Travel Retail Exclusive’ bottle of Glendronach since it first appeared towards the end of 2018 but I’ve not blogged about it until now for a couple of reasons. Firstly I was hoping someone might add a good video review on YouTube but that’s not happened yet. Secondly rumour has it that Travel Retail ‘exclusives’ only remain exclusive for one year before other shops can start to sell them. This would help with more reviews, tasting notes, etc. Unfortunately this doesn’t appear to be the case with the Glendronach ‘Forgue’. It seems that, much like the Kilchoman ‘Coull Point’, Travel Retail have bought up all the stock of the Forgue and are keeping it to themselves.
When I started collecting whisky in 2013 Glendronach was one of the great recovery stories. The distillery was mothballed between 1996 and 2002 but in 2008 it was acquired by the BenRiach Distillery Company who rejuvenated it with some fantastic releases. The Glendronach 15yo ‘Revival’ distilled before 1996 will probably always be a classic. Sadly interest in the distillery among general whisky buyers maybe waning with only the single cask releases getting the limelight. I can’t say I’m surprised because the bottle presentation hasn’t changed in over 10 years and is looking tired and dated. Time for another revamp Glendronach!
I’ve sometimes referred to the Glendronach as the ‘poor man’s Macallan’ so it makes sense to compare this 10yo with the last example of the Macallan 10yo ‘Sherry Oak’. The Forgue fairs quite well with 82/100 on Whiskybase compared with the Macallan’s 83.2/100 (from 336 votes). The Glendronach gets comments of “fair in price…..a delicious dram”, “it’s perfectly alright” and “enjoyable dram, some nice aroma’s and flavours, though it’s not very mindblowing, just pretty subtle”. Hardly brilliant remarks but probably fair. It’s a 10-year-old after all.
Official tasting notes:
Nose: A dance of Seville blood orange and cherry, with ripe barley, roast chestnuts and winter-spiced cocoa.
Taste: Sweet Valencia orange and Morello cherries, with rolling waves of ripe barley. As the flavour deepens, savour dark currants, praline toffee and earthy brambles.
Finish: A richly satisfying, lingering finish of orange-laced tobacco and ground nutmeg.
Bought: Tesco Supermarket, 3rd June 2019
Ratings for ‘Land Cask’:
81/100 – Whiskybase (average from 5 member votes)
92/100 – Scotch Malt Whisky
Ratings for ‘Sea Cask’:
76.17/100 – Whiskybase (average from 8 member votes)
89/100 – Scotch Malt Whisky
In 2018 Tesco Supermarket here in the UK decided to stock two ‘mystery’ single malts under the name of Aerstone. These are the ‘Land Cask’ and ‘Sea Cask’. They come with an age statement of 10 years and a volume of 40%. It’s not uncommon for supermarkets to have their own single malts but usually they’re labelled ‘ASDA’s Islay Single Malt’ or ‘Sainsbury’s Speyside Single Malt’. It’s unusually for a supermarket to register a trading name for a mystery whisky (where the source distillery isn’t clearly indicated). This is all very interesting but it was the price of £20 that caught my attention (reduced from £30). This made Aerstone the cheapest 10yo single malt on the market, even when the Aberlour 10yo is on offer. And considerably cheaper than the MacPhail’s 10yo mystery malt. Tesco, you have a winner!
The Aerstone duo aren’t really mystery malts in the traditional sense. Firstly it’s common knowledge that the source distillery is Girvan, owned by William Grant & Sons. Secondly a mystery malt typically comes from an established single malt distillery and Girvan is better known for producing grain whisky. Nevertheless since 2007 the Girvan complex has incorporated the Ailsa Bay distillery, which has been releasing single malt since 2016. With the Aerstone being 10 years old it’s possible that one or both of the cask types started life as Aisla Bay, which isn’t a bad thing.
It should come as no surprise that the Land Cask is doing better than the Sea Cask in reviews because peat and smoke make it more interesting. But both malts are considered to be easy going, straightforward sippers. Yes they contain E150 colourant and 40% seems quite tame these days but at £20 you can’t expect the earth to move. Both whiskies get excellent scores from William over on the Scotch Malt Whisky website and 81/100 on Whiskybase for the Land Cask is a pretty decent mark.
Overall I’d say that Tesco’s request to William Grant & Sons to give their customers two single malts that showcase the different profiles from different areas of maturation has been a success. And you can’t grumble at the price!
Here’s The Whisky Family with their thoughts on the Aerstone duo on Youtube (Oct 2018):
Posted in Aerstone (Tesco)
Tagged 10yo, 40%, 70cl, Aerstone, Ailsa Bay, Girvan, Land Cask, Lowland, Lowlands, Sea Cask, Single Malt, Tesco
Bought: Amazon, 16th June 2017
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:
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 www.ralfy.com)
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):
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.
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:
Bought: Highland Park Shop, 6th July 2017
84.29/100 – Whiskybase (average from 23 member votes)
The ‘Rebus 30’ 10yo by Highland Park’s own admission is the standard 10yo in a different bottle. Their excuse is that the new 10yo (named ‘Viking Scars’) isn’t available in the UK market so the ‘Rebus 30’ is an opportunity for Brits to try it. The 10yo scores 82.8/100 on Whiskybase from 9 member votes, nearly 1.5 points less than the Rebus 30. It goes to show that by releasing a ‘limited edition’ in different packaging and adding a story can influence opinion. Although we’ve all known that for year. I’ve certainly fallen for it!
When John Rankin, author of Inspector Rebus, got in touch with Highland Park in 2007 and asked about a commemorative bottle to mark 20 years of his character this resulted in a unique 20yo single malt limited to 150 bottles. These now sell for up to £2,000 at auction and £3,000 retail. In a way it’s a shame that after 30 years of Rebus all we get from Highland Park are 10,000 bottles of their bog standard 10yo. The look of the bottle is nice but it doesn’t come in a box. I suppose for £30 and £5.99 postage we mustn’t grumble. It has an age statement on it after all, unlike the new Highland Park ‘Dragon Legend’ selling at Tesco supermarkets for £40.
Tasting notes by Martin Markvardsen, senior brand ambassador at Highland Park:
Nose: Lightly fruity, hints of vanilla, citrus, fresh green apple
Taste: Citrus, fresh fruits, cream of vanilla, peppery spiciness, touch of smoke
Finish: Very long with continuing spice along with honey peatiness.
Here’s Rob of ‘Whisky In The 6’ with his review of the Highland Park 10yo, which is exactly the same as the Rebus 30 (Jan 2017):
Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 10th January 2017
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!
Bought: Master of Malt, 3rd August 2016
72/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
86/100 – Whiskybase (average from 10 member votes)
The Strathclyde grain distillery began life in 1927 and is located in Glasgow in the central belt of Scotland. It’s owned by Pernod Ricard, who own numerous single malt distilleries including Glenlivet, Scapa and Aberlour. Strathclyde grain whisky is used in the production of blends such as Ballantine’s and Teacher’s.
Whiskybase members have loaded up the details of 46 different bottlings of Strathclyde but only 2 of those have come from the distillery owners. 44 have been from independent bottlers such as my ‘Old Particular’ by Douglas Laing. Scoring 86/100 from 10 votes is an excellent score. One member who rates it 87/100 kindly leaves these tasting notes:
Nose: Cherry, cranberry, toffee, orange and lemon. The latter gets stronger, bringing that typical freshness of young grains. A small whiff of smoke and later a little tree resin.
Taste: Cranberry, toffee, lemon, orange, spice and a little marshmallow.
Finish: Cherry, toffee and cranberry.
Wow, that’s a lot of fruit flavours, with toffee, spice and a hint of smoke. It seems to me that single grain is a secret pleasure of a minority of whisky drinkers when it should have wider appeal. Good examples are there to be found. I’m beginning to wish I’d bought a 70cl bottle rather than a 3cl sample!
Update – added the score of 72/100 from the new Whisky Bible 2017, which classifies this whisky as “usually drinkable but don’t expect the earth to move”. This is because the author detects some sulphur on the nose and finish but summaries with “some attractive silkiness at least”.
Here’s ‘The Good Dram Show’ on You Tube with their thoughts on this 10yo as part of a review of 6 different bottlings of Strathclyde (November 2016):
Posted in Strathclyde
Tagged 10yo, 2005, 3cl, 50.9%, Cask Strength, Douglas Laing & Co Ltd, Lowland, Lowlands, Master of Malt, Old Particular, Single Grain, Strathclyde