Bought: World Duty Free, 22nd March 2016
82.67/100 – Whiskybase (average from 8 member votes) for 100cl version
84/100 – Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com)
The Johnnie Walker ‘Green Label’ first appeared in 2005 but by 2013 it was discontinued everywhere other than in Asia. In 2015 it returned (hurray!) with a limited edition to mark its 10-year anniversary. But rather than disappear again it has remained due to popular demand, and by having enough stock of the whisky that go into this blended malt. As it states on the box this is a vatting together of Talisker, Linkwood, Cragganmore and Caol Ila, which all have to be a minimum of 15 years old. And with no grain whisky to interfere with the mix you get to play a guessing game as to which of these 4 classic single malts you can spot in the taste.
Even though it’s been 2 years since the Green Label (GL) returned I see that Jim Murray’s ‘Whisky Bible’ book still contains his review from many years ago (95/100) so I haven’t included that. 82.6/100 on Whiskybase is for my 100cl version but the 70cl scores higher with 83.4/100 from 76 votes (it’s the same stuff in both bottles). That’s a pretty good score. Comments include “no big challenge, no need of too much attention. Simple but decent”, “what it lacks is a bit of power, but then again, the balance between subtle smoke and sweetness is well-done” and “initial taste is very good and promising, but the body never delivers. And it’s just downhill from there, with an almost non existing finish.”
Although ratings appear to be good the new GL clearly has its faults, especially to those who tried the previous incarnation. When Ralfy did his first YouTube review of the GL in 2010 he scored it a fantastic 89/100 but in his re-review in 2016 (below) he’s downgraded it to 84/100. He felt it had been slightly sanitised since his last review. ‘Malts of Montreal’ says in his YouTube review of September 2015 (here) that the old version was more smoky and peaty whereas the new GL is sweeter. This could well upset the Coal Ila and Talisker fans and I certainly didn’t taste as much Talisker as I was hoping when I tried it. But overall, without comparison to the previous version, the Johnnie Walker Green Label is a good blended malt and an enjoyable experience on the palate.
Ralfy’s thoughts on YouTube (April 2016):
Posted in Johnnie Walker VM
Tagged 100cl, 15yo, 43%, Caol Ila, Cragganmore, Green Label, Johnnie Walker, Linkwood, Talisker, Vatted Malt, World Duty Free
Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 9th January 2017
79.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
84.12/100 – Whiskybase (average from 173 member votes)
When Macallan discontinued the 10yo, 12yo and 15yo age statements in 2013 it was the 15yo that vanished from the UK shops first (High Street and online). As old stock of the 10yo and 12yo dribbled back onto the market the 15yo has remained elusive, although I believe it’s been easier to obtain in the US and Canada. Thankfully bottles regularly appear in online auctions, which is where I purchased mine. But was it worth it as a drinking dram?
Jim Murray, author of the whisky bible, wasn’t overly impressed with this final version of the 15yo ‘Fine Oak’. In 2009 he scored the previous version 94/100 but in 2012 he added my new bottling with a score of 79.5/100, which classifies it as “average and usually pleasant though sometimes flawed”. He says, “As the stock of the Fine Oak 12 rises, so its 15yo brother, once one of my Favourite drams, falls. Plenty to enjoy, but a few sulphur stains remove the gloss.”
Although 84/100 on Whiskybase is a good score it seems that a lot of Macallan fans are left feeling disappointed with the 15yo Fine Oak. Comments include “appealing, intensely sweet with good infusion of multiple oaks, complex and alluring”, “pretty drinkable and also enjoyable but not really great either”, “I expected much more for this Macallan, so felt disappointed” and “too much wood influence? Not a brilliant whisky for that price.”
As the 15yo Fine Oak drifts into whisky history you feel it will always have its fans, such is the appeal of The Macallan but perhaps this wasn’t their finest hour. It’s worth noting that none of the comments on Whiskybase mention ‘sulphur’ and the previous version of the Fine Oak scores less with 83.25/100 (from 58 votes), which Jim Murray gives 94/100. So make of that what you will.
Here’s ‘Whisky in the 6’ from Canada with their review of the 15yo Fine Oak on YouTube (January 2016):
Bought: Whisky Auction, 22nd November 2016
84/100 – Serge Valentin (Whiskyfun.com)
78/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)
‘Braes of Glenlivet’ sounds more like a pop group of horses than the name of a whisky distillery. Thankfully the name was changed to Braeval in 1994 to avoid any confusion with the neighbouring Glenlivet distillery. It seems a tad unfair since Braeval is one of only three distilleries in the glen of the river Livet, the others being Glenlivet and Tamnavulin. Braes of Glenlivet began life in the early 70s to provide malt for the Chivas Regal blend. The distillery was mothballed in 2002 but reopened in 2008 as the demand for Chivas Regal grew.
Braeval is a true blending malt because there’s no mention on Whiskybase of the existence of a single malt direct from the distillery. The book ‘Discovering Scotland’s Distilleries’ says the principal single malt is by an independent bottler and called ‘Deerstalker’, released as a 10yo and 15yo. At 40% and 46% respectively, neither score particularly well (much like my miniature by Signatory). It’s the cask strength releases of Braeval that get the accolades.
Serge Valentin of Whisky Fun summaries my bottle of Braes of Glenlivet by Signatory with, “interesting, really interesting – I can’t remember having had that much parsley in a malt before.”
Tasting notes from Whisky Fun:
Nose: quite some sherry but also unusual notes of varnish and parsley. Develops on dried oranges and bread crust, milk chocolate, getting then very herbal (dill, chive, coriander…) Very interesting. Also something slightly metallic, motor oil…
Mouth: not too bold but not weak, sort of strange, starting on overripe oranges but also lots of paraffin. Notes of cod oil (err…), cardboard, clay… Gets then very herbal again (dried parsley, thyme). I’m wondering whether there isn’t quite some peat in there. Unusual notes of green curry, Madeira, and retsina… That’s right, it’s quite resinous.
Finish: isn’t too long but balanced and satisfying, on peppered strawberries
Bought: Auriol Wines, 8th August 2016
89.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2016
84.19/100 – Whiskybase (average from 18 member votes)
The look of BenRiach that we know today started when the company was taken over in 2004 by a consortium of businessmen lead by whisky veteran Billy Walker. In June 2016 the sale of BenRiach along with Glendronach and Glenglassaugh distilleries was confirmed. Although the new owners say they intend to keep things pretty much as they are, fans of these distilleries might be a little concerned. It could mean good news for collectors if standards slip and bottles bought today are classics of the future but I’ll be sad if the qualify of the whisky diminishes from any of these distilleries. I might collect whisky but I firmly wear my drinker’s hat when buying bottles of BenRiach and Glendronach. Their current output is some of the best single malt on the market in my opinion.
My 15yo Tawny Port appeared in 2012 and 89.5/100 in the Whisky Bible classifies it as “very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying”. The author, Jim Murray, says of the taste “comes together on the pallet with a rare degree of grace. The kicking expected from the fruit never materialises and instead there is a soft malt and firm fruit double whammy; the fruit and nut chocolate arrives earlier than expected.” He concludes with “now that really is the perfect late night dram”.
Over 84/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score. Here are the tasting notes from the guys at Master of Malt:
Nose: Aromatic, port wood notes at the fore developing into a phenolic element, a little bitumen perhaps.
Palate: Sweet and firm, grape and oily smoke, sweetness develops, grapey.
Finish: Oak, smoke and a touch more phenol.
Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 10th May 2016
93/100 – Whisky Bible 2016
85.85/100 – Whiskybase (average from 199 member votes)
92/100 – Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com)
It’s 18 month since I blogged about getting a miniature of this famous Longmorn 15yo but it was only a matter of time before I got the full 70cl. This classic came and went before I started collecting whisky but now the subsequent 16yo has gone only to be replaced by the all-too-predictable NAS (non-aged statement) the Distiller’s Choice. I can understand why big names like Macallan and Glenlivet have changed to NAS because of the demand on their older stock but Longmorn? Really? Perhaps it’s because Chivas Regal need more and more mature Longmorn to go into their blend. Or maybe I don’t fully understand the reasons behind changing to NAS. Will I ever?
I mentioned Ralfy’s review in my previous blog about the 5cl but I’ll embed it this time so it’s easier to view. He talks about it as a drinker’s dram rather than for a collector and it seems that prices at auction back this up. Although one member of Whiskybase says the Longmorn 15yo cost just over £20 about 7-8 years ago it can be acquired for £45-£50 at auction now, which is a fairly average price for a new 15yo single malt. It may be a slow-burner as an investment but to Ralfy and many others, this is a dram to be drunk.
Nearly 86/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score where reviewers leave comments of “a well balanced and very fruity dram”, “very nice indeed” and “relentlessly charming and sadly missed”. Ralfy’s 92/100 is one of his highest ever scores and 93/100 in the Whisky Bible classifies it as “brilliant”. The author, Jim Murray, says of the taste “your mouth aches from the enormity of the complexity, whilst your tongue wipes grooves into the roof of your mouth. Just about flawless bitter-sweet balance, the intensity of the malt is enormous yet – even after 15 years – it maintains a cut-grass Speyside character.”
Here’s Ralfy’s review on You Tube from November 2013:
Bought: Master of Malt, 3rd March 2016
92/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
88/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)
I’m always keen to add a different Highland Park to my collection and what better than one from a new independent bottler, Edinburgh Whisky. The company have been on the go since 2013/14 but only appear to have bottled a Highland Park, Glenlivet and a blend so far. I found their website quite annoying because it keeps asking me to confirm I am over 18yo as I try to move from page to page. A basic error that should have been fixed by now if anyone in the company bothered to test it.
There were only 257 bottles produced of this HP. For a collector that’s a good thing. With an age statement (15yo), natural colour and non chill-filtered, this ex-bourbon cask whisky ticks a lot of good boxes. Thankfully Jim Murray agrees in his latest Whisky Bible 2017 where 92/100 classifies this HP as “brilliant”. He summaries with “after an uncharacteristic scramble on delivery this becomes a classic HP for its age, as is the nose. Rather lovely.”
The supplied tasting notes are:
NOSE: Soft, smoky initial maritime hit – from Lapsang tea to light iodine – washed over with a mineral, salty brine. The sweet fruitiness of candied orange and dried apricot evelops into darker fruit like fresh figs and prunes in Armagnac, which leads to great savoury elements like new leather, pipe tobacco and toasted macadamias. Lightly floral and aromatic with notes of fresh roses, wild heather and jasmine tea.
TASTE: Lovely mouthfeel – both dense and smooth. Panettone to salted caramel and pure heather honey. Baked apples and golden raisins. Cigar box woodiness. Climbing intensity with the light peat smoke throughout. Dark and brooding. Long, lush finish.
IMPRESSION: A sophisticated and truly engaging malt that slowly draws you in to some dark smokey world, but keeps balance and lightness and becomes about the sum of its parts, rather than just peat, or fruit. One to take time over. Quite special.
A couple of reviews can be found here:
Bought: SMWS, 4th November 2015
None at the moment but waiting for votes on Whiskybase here.
Although Jim Murray doesn’t mention this HP by the SMWS in his Whisky Bible 2016 (it’s too new) he does mention 4 other HPs by this experienced independent bottler. They range from a 13yo scoring 88.5/100 to a 22yo scoring an incredible 96.5/100. In the middle are two 14yos, which are closest in age to my 15yo. They score 93/100 and 95.5/100 respectively. This tells me that, according to Jim Murray at least, the guys at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society know how to pick a good Highland Park. This is hardly surprising when you consider that Whiskybase mention 137 separate releases of HP by the SMWS since their inception in the early 1980s. They have a lot of knowledge of Highland Park and it shows in the quality of casks they select for bottling. The code ‘4.213’ would suggest this is the 213th HP cask the SMWS have released. That’s about one bottling every two months since the society started.
My 15yo, distilled in 1999, goes by the name of “A Regency Pomander” with the usual over-the-top Oscar-winning tasting notes conjured up by the SMWS “from the word go this one was oozing quality. The aromas were intoxicating, baked apple with crème Anglaise, Banana Brulee using Ambrosia custard, clove studded oranges, a very chocolaty mousse and always in the background, the fragrant glow of a Jo Malone incense and embers candle. The taste neat was that of thick, sweet and waxy goodness, deep fried corn fritters served with honey and cream, blueberry pancakes with maple syrup and chocolate tofu pudding. A drop of water and the luxurious fragrance of a rosewater poured candle appeared along with a heavenly dessert of macadamia praline and Frangelico parfait.”
In the video below Georgie of the SMWS explains the society’s bottle labels:
Posted in Highland Park
Tagged 15yo, 4.213, 56.6%, 70cl, A Regency Pomander, Cask Strength, Highland Park, Islands, Orkney, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Single Cask, Single Malt, SMWS
Bought: SMWS, 30th October 2015
93/100 – Whisky Bible 2016
86/100 – Whiskybase (average from 5 member votes)
My 3rd and final 10cl sample from the SMWS membership pack and I’m surprised and delighted to find it’s included in the Whisky Bible 2016. Not only that but the author, Jim Murray, scores it 93/100 which classifies it as “brilliant”. He describes the taste as “spectacular mouth feel: the softest of oils allows the salivating butterscotch and barley to do its thing” and summarises with “the way in which it keeps its sweetness in such delicate voice is a thing of wonder”.
86/100 on Whiskybase is also a very good score. The society entitle this dram “Foamy strawberries in a cigar box” with tasting notes of “sugary cola bottles, crème Anglaise and raspberry jam. Deeper resonances of cedar, cigar boxes, putty, mint and menthol cigarettes. Luxurious, strawberry sweetness; custard donuts, banoffee pie and menthol cough candies.” Completely over-the-top description as usual but clearly it must be worth it, especially if Jim Murray thinks it’s brilliant!
Here’s a quick video on the origins of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society:
Posted in Arran
Tagged 10cl, 121.66, 15yo, 55.4, Arran, Cask Strength, Foamy strawberries in a cigar box, Highland, Highlands, Single Malt, SMWS
Bought: Highland Park Shop, 14th July 2015
85/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
83.02/100 – Whiskybase (average from 164 member votes)
Back in about 2000 when I got my first bottle of HP 15yo it was exclusive to Sainsbury’s supermarket (according to a member of Whiskybase). 15 years later and it’s equally difficult to acquire in the UK. You have to go direct to the Highland Park shop on the distillery’s website. The bottle is readily available elsewhere in Europe (see the Whiskybase link for details) where it’s around £45 as opposed to the £65 price tag in the UK.
85/100 in the Whisky Bible classifies this dram as “good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying” but the author, Jim Murray, is hardly complimentary in his brief review “had to re-taste this several times, surprised as I was by just how relatively flat this was. A hill of honey forms the early delivery, but then….”
83/100 on Whiskybase is a reasonable score, beating other HP offerings such as the Leif Eriksson, Einar, Harald, Drakkar and the HP12, although expert reviewer Mark Dermul says about the HP 15yo “this is a bit of a weird HP if you ask me. The 12 Year Old easily transcends this one.” Other voter remarks about the HP 15yo include “an unusual HP but I like it”, “a decent and interesting dram” and “a trademark Highland Park dram and lovely at that.” It’s definitely worth a try and I’ll be interested to see how it compares with my old bottle of HP 15yo.
Bought: Master of Malt, 11th June 2015
86.08/100 – Whiskybase (average from 194 member votes)
I bought this Laphroaig 15yo followed quickly by the 18yo. Both are very collectable. The 15yo is a limited edition of 72,000 bottles and the 18yo has been discontinued. It was after I bought the 18yo that I had my first direct dealings with Laphroaig and their website shop. As a ‘Friend of Laphroaig’ I got sent an email by the distillery on my birthday offering me a discount. How kind! I went and had a look and a cask-strength Laphroaig for £40 caught my eye. I went shopping for other things such as a Glencairn glass before going back to the cask-strength bottle and clicking through to its dedicated page. It was only then that it said “out of stock”. The bottle was given special place on the Home page and appeared on the list of shop whiskies without a word about being out-of-stock. I was annoyed then I remembered it was my birthday so I became angry that Laphroaig had tainted the start of my special day. I then became angry that I was angry! I sent them an email only to be fobbed off with a reply saying they were busy dealing with orders for their 21-year-old bottling and my issue had been sent to their website team.
With so many whisky distilleries out there it helps to be able to rule a few out from time to time. Thank you Laphroaig for removing yourself from my list by ruining the start of my birthday! I had a look on their website for cancelling my “friendship” but there wasn’t any option. If someone would like to start a group called “Enemies of Laphroaig” then count me in! Their whisky is lovely but their website and customer service is seriously lacking. No more Laphroaig for me!
Here is an insightful and interesting review of the Laphroaig 15yo by the German expert Horst Luening: