Bought: Waitrose, 10th November 2017
85.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2014
85.76/100 – Whiskybase (from 44 member votes)
In 2017 Bunnahabhain decided it was time to update their packaging. Waitrose reduced the new 12yo to under £30 (as they often do) so I picked up a bottle. Not that I took much convincing because this is one of my favourite single malts regardless of price. Bunnahabhain clearly know what the market wants and the 12yo ticks all the boxes with good potency (46.3%), no chill filtration, natural colour, bags of flavour, great value (even at full price) and an age statement!
The use of the new term ‘Small Batch Distilled’ on the packaging got me wondering if the 12yo had changed in flavour but apparently it’s the same old 12yo inside the bottle. The use of ‘Small Batch’ is a vague term that stems from American whiskey production. Perhaps Bunnahabhain got the idea from their Islay neighbour Bowmore who released a NAS (non-age statement) in 2014 called ‘Small Batch’. It refers to small-scale production but there is no requirement to define what ‘small’ actually means. Small compared to what? In fact it’s so meaningless I’ve wasted too many words on it already! 🙂 Moving on….
One thing that’s clear from online reviews is that Bunna fans love this new release, even if it’s just the packaging that’s changed (although there will be subtle differences from batch to batch). Scoring nearly 86/100 on Whiskybase is a fantastic score with previous years tending to score in the range of 84-85/100. Comments online include “nice all man’s friend that is dangerously quaffable”, “fantastic complex whisky that compares with the very best”, “this is a wonderful whisky, rich sherry, oak, salty notes, and light hints of cherry” and “the best 12yr aged malt on the market”.
Tasting notes from ‘Master of Malt’:
Nose: Fresh, sweet. Seaweed, malt.
Palate: Soft, supple. Sherry, nutty. A little sweetness, malty, juicy sultana. Slightly coastal.
Finish: Sherried, mochaccino, herbal, balanced salty tang.
Here is Horst and Ben Luening with their thoughts about the new Bunna 12yo on YouTube (Jan 2018):
Bought: Co-op Foods, 9th November 2017
The Co-operative chain of shops has been selling a 12-year-old Highland single malt for many years. Although the source distillery is a mystery there are some clues that point firmly at Dalmore. A whisky forum discussion in 2012 said the packaging mentions ‘The Black Isle’, which is synonymous with Dalmore. It was also said that Richard Patterson, who is the master blender for Whyte & Mackay, who own Dalmore, blended the dram. Another clue is the use of lots of colorant. Love it or hate it, Dalmore use a lot of E150.
In 2016 into 2017 the packaging for the Co-op 12yo changed but it still mentions ‘The Black Isle’, although strictly speaking this could also apply to the Glen Ord and Teaninich distilleries. There’s no mention of Richard Patterson but the colouring still screams ‘Dalmore’ (favourite dram of Oompa Loompas to maintain their complexion). It’s not going to be the same as the Dalmore 12yo, which is part-finished in 30-year-old Gonzalez Byass Matusalem oloroso sherry casks, but at half the price the Co-op 12yo is worth seeking out.
For an online review in 2015 Cambridge Wine Blogger says, “a golden, mahogany toffee colour, it has a complex nose of citrus, sandalwood and roasted spices; cooked mixed fruit, pastry shop, sweet vanilla and complex dark sherry flavours. Warming, assertive and persistent.” And concludes with, “good value and very good.”
Here’s Tropical Scot with his review of the Co-op Highland 12-year-old on YouTube (Jan 2017):
Bought: Online Auction, 5th October 2017
85.65/100 – Whiskybase (from 8 member votes)
78/100 – Malt Maniacs (from 4 maniac votes)
This 40% Glen Ord 12yo was introduced in the mid 1990s (according to Malt Maniacs) and superseded in c.2005 by a square bottle version at a more potent 43%. I’ve wanted this distillery bottling of Glen Ord for a while because it was a classic of its day. There is certainly plenty of it about because it regularly appears in UK auctions where bottles make a modest £30-£60. The square bottle arguably contains better whisky than the earlier version from the 1990s but I was delighted to win this 100cl 40% for £42. After auction costs £55 doesn’t seem much for a whisky discontinued over 10 years ago and possibly bottled over 20 years ago. The whisky inside could have been distilled in the 1980s.
Scoring over 85/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score, albeit only from 8 member votes. Someone leaves the comment, “quite a good and complex dram for its age. A good bottling from the past.” The 70cl version listed on Whiskybase was bottled in 2003 and scores a more modest 81/100 from 64 votes. Comments include “much better than I was expecting, not exciting or anything but easy to drink”, “just ok, certainly not offensive and even positively cordial”, and “this one goes excellent with a good coffee, a lovely malt from a nice distillery”.
Serge Valentin, one of the Malt Maniacs, scores the Glen Ord 12yo 76/100 with the comment “the new one in the rectangular bottle is much better, but this old version is rather amiable, after all”. The picture of his bottle shows it came with a square box, which is probably the early presentation from the mid 1990s. I suspect my 100cl with the round tube is from 2000+. Serge Valentin’s review can be found here.
Here’s Ben of ‘A Dram A Day’ with a history of the Glen Ord distillery and his thoughts on the square bottle of the 12yo:
Bought: Online Auction, 5th October 2017
76.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2013
89/100 – Serge Valentin (www.whiskyfun.com)
86.5/100 – Whiskybase (average from 225 member votes)
Highland Park ‘Saint Magnus’ 12yo was a distillery release in 2010 and was the second edition from the Inga Saga trilogy. The Saint Magnus label isn’t new to Highland Park as I’ve seen bottle examples using it in the 1960s. The Inga Saga trio consisted of:
- Earl Magnus 15yo, 2009, 5,976 bottles, 52.6%
- Saint Magnus 12yo, 2010, 11,994 bottles, 55%
- Earl Haakon 18yo, 2011, 3,300 bottles, 54.9%
When the Saint Magnus 12yo appeared in 2010 it was priced at €100. Some felt it was expensive for what it was but €100 for a similar release in 2017 would seem quite reasonable. The presentation is very good and I like the sturdy wooden display case. An equivalent Highland Park costing €100 today would be the Sigurd, which comes in a solid wooden box but it’s NAS (non-age statement), widely available and only 43%.
Jim Murray’s review of the Saint Magnus in his Whisky Bible 2013 is a bit of an outlier especially when compared to 89/100 from Serge Valentin of Whisky Fun. Mr Murray simply says “tight and bitter” and 76.5/100 classifies this dram as “average and usually pleasant though sometimes flawed”. Serge Valentin only uses the word ‘bitter’ with regards to ‘bitter oranges’ in the taste but I don’t get the impression this is a negative remark. He says “the cinnamon is really big” and, “with water: now it’s really excellent, with a great earthiness”. I’m a big fan of cinnamon so this sounds good to me!
Scoring over 86.5/100 on Whiskybase is a very good mark. Comments include “great malt”, “shows the potential of the distillery” and “one of the most interesting malts that HP has brought to market in recent years” (written in 2016). I’m left thinking that Jim Murray had a tainted sample because his low rating of the Saint Magnus is in the minority.
Bought: Auriol Wines, 1st September 2017
83.79/100 – Whiskybase (average from 906 member votes)
87/100 – Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com)
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):
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):
Bought: Lockett Bros, 19th April 2017
90.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
90/100 – Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com) – his video review below
86.78/100 – Whiskybase (average from 560 member votes)
My previous bottle of ‘Kilkerran’ by the Glengyle distillery was the ‘Work in Progress 5’ (bourbon casks), which I bought at the end of 2013. Back then my blog mused about the possibility of a 10-year-old release in 2014 but we had to wait until 2016 for the appearance of the first age statement. Glengyle filled the gap in 2014 and 2015 with a ‘Work in Progress’ 6 and 7. It was certainly worth the wait because whisky lovers went mad for the Kilkerran 12yo when it appeared in 2016. It was arguably the best budget single malt release of the year. I was a bit slow off the mark but thankfully managed to pick up the 2016 version of the bottling in early 2017. Since then Glengyle have released the 12yo again and it looks set to be a regular release from now on.
Over the years critics generally said that the bourbon cask version of the ‘Work in Progress’ was marginally better than the sherry. You have to suspect that Glengyle picked up on this, which is why they made the 12yo 70% bourbon and 30% sherry. Scoring nearly 87/100 on Whiskybase is a fantastic score. And from 560 members this suggests the Kilkerran 12yo is very much a whisky drinker’s whisky. Comments include “pleasant standard at a reasonable price”, “a surprisingly tasty drama considering the price and age” and “beautifully made no-nonsense Campbeltown whisky”.
Scoring 90.5/100 in Jim Murray’s ‘Whisky Bible 2017’ classifies the Kilkerran 12yo as ‘brilliant’. The author comments about the taste “despite the dozen years in cask, this still retains a degree of youth about it. But the malts are confident and take advantage of the overall lack of body to spread out and blossom”. He summarises with, “a malt far more confident at this age than some of the previous, younger, bottlings from a few years back. Has a fragile feel to it and the air of a malt which must be treated gently and with respect.”
90/100 from Ralfy is one of his highest scores. Here are his thoughts about the Kilkerran 12yo on YouTube (Oct 2016):
Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 10th January 2017
88/100 – Whisky Bible 2006
81/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)
81/100 – Serge Valentin of Whiskyfun.com
You wouldn’t look at “Poit Dhubh” and think it was pronounced “Potch Ghoo” but it is. That’s the wonders of the Gaelic language for you. As it proudly states on the back of the 70cl bottle “malt whisky specially produced for the Gaelic speaking islands of the Scottish Hebrides and for connoisseurs throughout the world”. It goes on to say that Poit Dhubh (meaning ‘black pot’, a term for an illicit still) is not chill-filtered to ensure the “oils contribute to its rare and soft, distinguishing flavour”. Marketing also states that its entirely natural so no added caramel either. And at 46% this whisky is looking worthy of 88/100 in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2006, which classifies the Poit Dhubh as “very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying”.
The Poit Dhubh 12yo is still produced today by Pràban na Linne Limited (The Gaelic Whisky Company) along with an 8yo and 21yo. They also do the blends ‘Té Bheag’ and ‘Mac Na Mara’. The current Poit Dhubh is still natural but 43% compared to my older 46% version. Quite when the 46% bottle dates from is unclear (2005?) but there are 10 different versions of the Poit Dhubh 12yo listed on Whiskybase. Strangely Whiskybase categorise my bottle as ‘single malt’ but elsewhere it’s described as vatted or blended malt (as is the current 43% version). Scotch Whisky Auctions sold a bottle of Poit Dhubh 12yo, 46%, in July 2014, which they summarised as “vatted malt (technically a combination of several single malts). Talisker comprises the majority of the malt, reflecting the provenance of its parent company, which is based on the Isle of Skye. The remainder of the blend is composed of various Speyside malts.”
Serge Valentin of Whiskyfun.com gives the Poit Dhubh 12yo 46% a very good 81/100 and remarks, “I think it’s the best Poit Dhubh I ever had, but I think I only had three or four before. Good stuff but at the same price, why not buy the genuine single malt from that island?” [Talisker]. His tasting notes consist of:
Nose: Dry whisky. Notes of wet chalk, very faint smoke, paper, lager beer and lemon-sprinkled porridge, then sea air. More smoke but also more notes of old wood (barrel) after a moment.
Taste: I don’t know if it’s my mind playing tricks to me but it does taste like Talisker (Pràban na Linne are on Skye.) ‘Smoked oranges’, pepper, salt, lime and kippers.
Finish: Rather long, more on lemon.
Here’s Ralfy with his review of the more modern 43% version of the Poit Dhubh 12yo, which he scores a fantastic 89/100 (May 2010):
Bought: Amazon, 12th March 2016
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):
Bought: Aberdeen Whisky Shop, 11th September 2015
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):