Tag Archives: 70cl

Caol Ila 18-year-old (unpeated), Diageo Special Releases 2017

Acquired: Birthday Gift, 7th August 2020

Ratings:
96/100 – Whisky Bible 2020
90/100 – Whisky in the 6 (his video review below)
86.52/100 – Whiskybase (average from 174 member votes)

I was delighted to receive this Caol Ila 18yo as a birthday gift. Initially I thought it was the standard 18yo until I saw the 59.8% on the box. Some quick research later and I discovered it was the Diageo special release bottled from 2017. The further away we get from the last millennium the nicer it is to acquire whisky distilled before 2000. It’s pure sentimentality that Millennials and Generation Z wouldn’t understand. Hard to believe such a wonderful single malt from 2017 is still available new in 2020 but it was. No need for an auction site quite yet.

I haven’t added a Caol Ila to my collection for nearly 5 years. I love the distillery but it goes to show how much choice there is out there that it’s been neglected for so long. Of my previous 4 examples of Caol Ila none are unpeated like this 2017 18-year-old. Several reviews either say they detect a hint of peat or the smoke element gives a strong illusion of peat. It’s interesting that Caol Ila can’t shake off what people expect to taste but it’s great that the distillery isn’t scared to strip the peat away. It clearly works, and works well.

Jim Murray, author of the ‘Whisky Bible’, scores this Caol Ila 18yo a fantastic 96/100, which classifies it as a ‘superstar whisky that gives us all a reason to live’. He scores the taste a near-perfect 24.5/25 with the remark “so, so beautiful” and finishes with “this is the way Caol Ila should be: so true to the distillery”. Other comments online include “intense arrival, it maintains a maritime character and has substantial oak to affirm its age”, “an extremely rewarding Islay malt, despite its lack of peat” and “just a superb whisky”. What a lovely birthday gift!

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: At the tasting we attended, “chocolate digestives” was met with universal agreement. Quite creamy with bourbon hints and sliced peaches too.

Palate: Fruitier now, fragrant and concentrated with a little furniture polish. This is complemented by the expected soft caramel and clean seashell character.

Finish: Cake-like with just a hint of smoke (even though this is ‘unpeated’).

Here’s Rob of ‘Whisky in the 6’ on YouTube giving us his thoughts about this special Caol Ila 18yo (Oct 2018):

Highland Park ‘Voyage of the Raven’

Bought: Master of Malt, 23rd February 2018

Ratings:
83.56/100 – Whiskybase (average from 179 member votes)

As it stands in 2020, you can tell if a whisky enthusiast is a collector rather than an investor if they constantly acquire different bottles of Highland Park. It’s never ending! The distillery’s constant output of late has sent investors looking elsewhere, and bottles are taking a long time to sell out online. But if you like drinking HP and/or enjoy having a good HP range in your whisky den, the last few years have been a golden age for HP fans. Some may say they’ve cheapened the brand and that a release for Scottish Ballet is the whisky equivalent of a TV series ‘jumping the shark’ but the reality is, they’re still producing excellent nectar. You can’t go wrong with a bottle of HP, even if it’s wearing a tutu and tempting you to break out the nutcracker.

It’s over two years since ‘Voyage of the Raven’ was released and in general it has been very well received. Over 83.5/100 on Whiskybase from 179 votes is a solid score. It may only be 41.3% and yet another NAS (no-age statement) but it’s clearly HP through and through. Comments online include “beautiful creamy-oily, spicy and sweet sherry HP – very tasty”, “smooth and delicious”, “anyone who knows Highland Park knows what to expect” and “a sherry barrel falls on the Highland Park profile”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Chocolate mousse and black cherry, with a subtle wisp of floral smoke.

Palate: Peat is still in the background, but this expression is very much a showcase of Sherried Highland Park malt.

Finish: Drying Christmas-y spices last on the finish.

Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the Raven on YouTube (Jan 2018):

Old Pulteney 12-year-old (new style from 2018)

Bought: Sainsbury’s, 23rd October 2019

Ratings:
83/100 – Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com – his review below)
81.52/100 – Whiskybase (average from 62 member votes)

Reliable, consistent, born by the sea and a true Scot. But enough about me, let’s talk about the revamped Old Pulteney 12yo (OP12). It’s taken me a while to blog about the new OP12yo because there’s not much to say about it. It’s basically the pre-2018 version in a square box. Nevertheless there will be some people that say the whisky has changed, and indeed in some ways it will always change because of batch variations. But there’s no big difference, really. The OP12 remains true to its coastal Highland roots, with a quality whisky at a very pocket-friendly price.

It seems human nature to say things were better in the past, and you see this quite a lot in the world of whisky. It’s therefore a bit of a surprise that this new version of the OP12 scores 81.5/100 on Whiskybase compared to 80.8/100 (from 820 votes) for the previous version. It’s a marginal difference but surely the new square box isn’t the magic ingredient? Personally I preferred the previous oval-shaped tube. The new presentation is like sticking whisky in a Ford Escort from the 1980s. You might as well give the box some padded shoulders and be done with it.

Comments online include “I was pleasantly surprised by the density and sweet tones”, “this has become my go-to whisky. Such a smooth easy drink. Amazing!”, “very good single malt. Well rounded. Good value as well.” and ,“for the price a great dram every now and then to ground your taste buds”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Honeycomb, vanilla tablet, soft sawdust oakiness and oatcakes.

Palate: Chocolate peanuts, mint, citrus peels, maritime elements and white pepper.

Finish: Toffee, brine and lemon.

Here’s Ralfy with his thoughts about the OP12 (YouTube, Aug 2019):

Lagavulin 10-year-old

Bought: World of Whisky, 2nd October 2019

Ratings:
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):

Highland Park ‘The Dolphins’ (2nd release – 2018)

Bought: Highland Park Shop, 22nd September 2018

Ratings:
85.22/100 – Whiskybase (average from 29 member votes)

As Highland Park (HP) say on their website the first release of ‘The Dolphins’ was a request to create an “officially licensed product for sale in the bars and shops at the The Royal Navy’s Faslane base in Scotland” by the Royal Navy Submarine Service. So this was effectively a private release and not on general sale. I believe this was in 2017 as The Dolphins started to drift onto auction sites in December of that year. Being rare and difficult to find bottles were making over £300.

During the first half of 2018 The Dolphins were consistently making £250 at auction, peaking at £400 in June. Then in September HP put the bottle on general sale from their online shop for £40. People refer to it as the second release but there’s nothing on the label to say that it’s any difference from the private version from 2017. Even the barcode is the same. And I strongly suspect that the shops at the naval base were selling the first release at the £40 mark. But there is a difference between the shape of the bottles between the first and second releases (the first is straight) and the first release has “Estd 1798” on either side of the HP logo, which is missing from the second release. But I bet the whisky inside both versions is very much the same.

The first release of The Dolphins scores a respectable 83.85/100 from 48 votes on Whiskybase but the second release scores slightly better with 85.22/100 from 29 votes. A similar low budget NAS (no-age statement) HP called ‘Viking Tribe’ scores 82.5/100 from 20 votes and that’s 46% compares to The Dolphins’ 40%.

With official tasting notes including vanilla, bananas, light peat, lemon peel, white pepper and toasted oak, The Dolphins sounds quite appealing. The second release has sold out on the HP website and if it doesn’t return we’ll probably see prices at auction start to increase again but not back to the heady heights of £400.

Here’s The Malt Chronicles doing a comparison between two Highland Park no-age statement releases, The Dolphins and Viking Tribe (March 2019):

Dons Dram, Aberdeen Football Club (FC) Single Malt

Bought: Aberdeen Football Club shop, 5th November 2018

Ratings:
None I can find.

It’s been over a year since I bought this single malt from the Aberdeen FC shop and in that time it’s become quite controversial. The club, founded in 1903, and known as ‘The Dons’ since c.1909, decided to register the ‘Dons Dram’ as a trademark. The drinks company Sandeman objected because they produce ‘Don Fino’ sherry and consider ‘DON’ to be a name associated with them. For some strange reason they thought a whisky from a Scottish football club would cause confusion in the marketplace with their products. Really? Are they that insecure? In March 2019 the UK Intellectual Property Office, who rule on trademark disputes, found in favour of Sandeman. Aberdeen FC were forced to pay £1,500 in legal costs. Damn! That money could have bought another defender!

There are a number of newspapers that reported this incident at the end of March 2019 and you’d be forgive for thinking it was an early April Fools joke such is the stupidity of the story. The football club have never to my knowledge advertised the whisky on their online store. You can only purchase it by visiting their shop in Aberdeen. It doesn’t sit on a shelf beside bottles of ‘Don Fino’ sherry resulting in confusion and screams of complaint from customers. Most of the newspaper reports incorrectly show a picture of an old version of the ‘Dons Dram’, which was a blend produced by the Bennachie Scotch Whisky Co., Inverurie. The latest ‘Dons Dram’ is a single malt sourced by Own Label Co., Edinburgh.

Even if there will never be another ‘Dons Dram’ whisky it’s doubtful that this will make my bottle collectable. Generally speaking whisky that’s selected for football clubs are cheap and cheerful, which keeps their prices low at auction. And for the ‘Dons Dram’ it is a true mystery malt where the source distillery isn’t know, so that wont help its value (but I’d like to think it’s a Macallan!).

The reason of course for getting the ‘Dons Dram’ is to celebrate the best football team in Scotland. There are those who would say that being managed by Sir Alex Ferguson is enough to earn Aberdeen this accolade. There are many reports that proclaim Sir Alex as the greatest football manager in the world but it doesn’t end there for the Dons. They’re the only Scottish club to win two European honours, which is proudly indicated by two stars above the club logo. But what about the Glasgow teams I hear you ask? Well, Partick Thistle and Queens Park are reasonable but not a patch on Aberdeen Football Club. The Dons have no equal. I’ll drink to that!

Aberlour 1970 25-year-old ‘Jewels of Scotland’

Bought: Whisky Auction, 4th June 2019

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

I almost feel like apologising to Lombard, the independent bottler of this fine Aberlour 25yo from 1970. In 6 years of collecting whisky I’d never heard of them. Have you? But according to their website they’ve been involved in the whisky scene for 5 decades and a family history in the drinks business dating back nearly 300 years. Lombard also have 118 different whiskies listed on Whiskybase so they’ve clearly been selling whisky somewhere. But where? Their website doesn’t list any stockists, UK or otherwise, and the Lombard Facebook page hasn’t been updated since September 2017.

Perhaps the reason why Lombard have slipped under my malty radar is because they rarely do single malt, which is my main interest. The Isle of Man based business do several blended whiskies including ‘Old Master’, ‘Ballaglass’, ‘Driftwood’ and ‘Anchor Bay’, which are all currently in stock on Master of Malt. An out-of-stock blend called ‘Storm’ scored 94/100 in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2013. Lombard are clearly not amateurs in the world of whisky bottling, which is very reassuring when spending a small fortune on one of their vintage bottles at auction.

I must admit, when I saw this Aberlour 25yo at auction I was a bit concerned about the pristine nature of a bottle that had been originally sold in 1995/6. I’d also never seen it at auction until this year. Now bottles were appearing in several auctions in a row and sometimes more than one bottle at a time, and always in mint condition. Thankfully Whiskybase has enough photos showing examples of Lombard whisky to reassure me that these bottles aren’t fake. But where have they been hiding for over 20 years? Perhaps Lombard themselves have found old stock or a private individual bought a case when they were new and has finally decided to sell them off. Whatever the reason, I’m glad to have this gem in my collection.

The Whisky Exchange are currently selling a bottle of this Aberlour for £299 (half this price at auction) where they say, “A twist on Aberlour’s usual character from indie bottler Lombard’s Jewels of Scotland. Rather than going with the distillery’s more typical sherry-cask maturation, this whisky slept for 25 years in a bourbon casks. The result is a more elegant dram, with the distillery’s rich and malty character front and centre.”

I suspect this will be my last 1970 bottle to celebrate my birth year. Do you have one for yours?

Highland Park ‘Viking Tribe’

Bought: Amazon, 17th January 2019

Ratings:
4.3/5 stars – Amazon (from 75 customer reviews)
83.08/100 – Whiskybase (average from 16 member votes)

The Highland Park ‘Viking Tribe’ is a single malt from the famous Orkney distillery, exclusively available from Amazon UK. The Highland Park (HP) website describe the flavour as ‘sweet vanilla, zesty citrus, peppery spices and aromatic peat smoke’. Sounds like the sort of whisky that no sideboard should be without. It might not have an age statement but its robust 46% makes the recommended sale price of £43 a bit easier to swallow. Thankfully since its arrival in 2018 there have been regular Amazon reductions to £30 and free delivery. Unfortunately there’s no presentation box but that seems to be quite common for HP bottles under £50-60.

Scoring 83/100 on Whiskybase is a pretty good score but only from 16 votes. 4.3/5 (equivalent to 86/100) is a bit better on Amazon but it probably levels out about the same when you remove the 5 star ratings with comments like “bought this for a friend/partner who didn’t spit it out, so it must be good”. But most reviews are from people who drank it and include comments of “tasted amazing”, “it’s characterful and very satisfying” and “a very nice whisky that I would have no qualms in recommending”. On the flip-side there were several remarks that the Viking Tribe was harsh, young and underwhelming. A number of people felt it was only worth buying when reduced to £30 or less. Hardly surprising when the 12yo is still getting discounted to £25 in some supermarkets. But the Viking Tribe is yet another new HP on the market from the popular distillery, which is all fans need to make a purchase. I certainly did!

Tasting notes from Highland Park (Nov 2018):

Aerstone ‘Land Cask’ & ‘Sea Cask’ 10-year-old (Tesco Supermarket)

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):

The AuchTerTurra (‘Scotland The What?’)

Bought: Whisky Auction, 8th August 2018

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

The Auchterturra – “the what?” I hear you say. Well, you’d be partially correct. If you’d said “Scotland The What?” then you’d know that Auchterturra was a fictional village located somewhere in Aberdeenshire, often referred to by the comic trio known as ‘Scotland The What?’ in their sketches. Buff Hardie, Steve Robertson and George Donald met at the University of Aberdeen in the 1950s but first appeared under the name Scotland The What? at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1969. They performed together for 26 years until their ‘Final Fling’ show in 1995. Their material used the Doric, the local dialect of the north-east of Scotland, but I’m sure they toned it down when playing to international audiences. They recorded TV shows for Grampian Television and all three were awarded MBEs in 1995.

There are two versions of ‘The AuchTerTurra’ whisky released around 1990 in honour of Scotland The What?. I have the blend, which can make between £25-£60 at auction but there’s also a 1969 single malt that commands over £200, if you’re lucky enough to find it. Both versions are quite rare. The malt content of the blend came from the Ardmore distillery and I believe the same can be said for the single malt.

1995 was the year I left Aberdeen so sadly I missed Scotland The What? doing their ‘The Final Fling’ performance, which they did at His Majesty’s Theatre. I first performed there in 1985 with the Aberdeen Opera Company and later in the 1980s with the Aberdeen Youth Festival so I have fond memories and a shared experience with Buff, Steve and George. I have the DVD of ‘The Final Fling’ and 2019 marks 50 years since Scotland The What? was formed so perhaps I’ll watch it with a dram of The AuchTerTurra to celebrate their memory.

Here’s the trio doing their final number, which they updated with topical subjects over the years: