Tag Archives: Blend

Hazelwood 18-year-old

Bought: World of Whisky (Heathrow), 27th June 2017

Ratings:
88/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
77/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)
90/100 – Scotch Malt Whisky

I went to the ‘World of Whisky’ shop at Heathrow airport without any intension of buying a bottle of Hazelwood 18-year-old. I was aware of its existence from previous trips and I liked its art deco styling but I only wanted a bottle of Chita, until a salesman grabbed me. He’d obviously been told to give the Hazelwood 18yo the hard sell and I was invited to have a sample. Don’t mind if I do! Granted it was very pleasant but I just wanted a bottle of Chita (Japanese single grain). I must stick to my guns! Then the salesman said they only had two bottles of the Hazelwood left and indicated that stocks were selling out everywhere. Clearly I had “sucker” written all over me. Sadly it worked and I found myself saying, “I’ll take a bottle!” A combination of sales persistence, several more whisky samples and my collector’s gullibility had been my undoing. For the same price as the new and more interesting Balvenie 14yo ‘Peated’ (£65) I’d bought myself a 50cl, 18yo blend in a fancy bottle. Well done! The moral of this story is “stick to your plan” even if a slick salesman is plying you with free whisky.

Although 77/100 on Whiskybase sounds quite average it’s only from 2 votes so far. I’ve got a feeling it will level out around 80/100 after 20 votes. Having tasted it I’d say it was more like 82/100 from me but Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible scores the Hazelwood 18yo a fantastic 88/100. This classifies it as a ‘very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying’. I don’t feel so bad about being duped out of £65 now. Jim Murray’s review consists of:

Nose: top-notch dispersal of subtle notes: walnut cream cake with a pinch of vanilla. The malt is low key but distinctly Speyside-style in its clarity, despite the odd wisp of something a little heavy.
Taste: Creamy-textured. Soft ulmo honey gives way to the thickening vanilla and toffee.
Finish: bitters slightly at the turned-up ending
Comment: until the final furry moments, a genuine little, understated, charmer

Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the Hazelwood 18yo on YouTube (July 2017):

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Bell’s Decanters: Prince William’s birth (1982) and Queen’s 60th birthday (1986)

Bought: Whisky Auction, 24th May 2017

Ratings:
Birth of Prince William, 1982:
82/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)

Queen Elizabeth’s 60th Birthday 1986:
Not rated yet but listed on Whiskybase here.

Bell’s Decanters have arrived in my collection and the men in white coats are coming to take me away. Did I just go insane? But no whisky collection would be complete without one, even if the majority of people consider them to be a bit naff. This is probably why they don’t make much money at auction. I paid £11 for Prince William and £18 for the Queen’s 60th. Empty bottles sell for a similar price on Ebay. It seems weird to say they’re “yesterday’s antique” when they only appeared in the 1980s. Perhaps one day their value will bounce back but there seems to be a lot of them about. It’s time to buy them all up and smash them! Let’s reduce the numbers. I’m sure the royal family won’t mind.

The Bell’s decanter first appeared in the 1920s when it was made from blue glass and designed in a more traditional decanter shape. By the late 1930s the bottle began to take on a more bell-like appearance and was made from porcelain. By the 1950s Royal Doulton, a famous British porcelain manufacturer began making the Bell’s decanter in the brown and gold design seen in Ralfy’s video below. By 1960 Stode had taken over production and then in 1966 it was Wade of Stoke. The Christmas decanters (often seen at auction) began life in 1988, which is also the year the decanters started containing ‘Bell’s Extra Special Blended Scotch Whisky’. Prior to that it wasn’t extra special at all!

Both my examples are royal commemorative decanters, which Bell’s first produced for the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981. This was also the first time that white porcelain had been used and all the stock sold out in a matter of months. Given this fact it’s hardly surprising that Bell’s decided to continue the royal theme with a second decanter release in 1982 for the birthday of Prince William. A 3rd release in 1984 commemorated the birth of Prince Harry and a 4th and 5th release in 1986 marked Queen Elizabeth’s 60th birthday and the wedding of Prince Andrew and Miss Sarah Ferguson. Since then Bell’s have done several more regal releases.

I’ve heard Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com) describe himself as eccentric many times but he always comes across as being quite normal. Nevertheless he sometimes shows eccentricity with his purchases and he’s currently the only person I can find that’s done a review of a Bell’s decanter on YouTube. Here’s Ralfy’s decanter advice from October 2012:

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!

Dunglass (Littlemill) 5-year-old

Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 10th January 2017

Ratings:
77/100 – Whiskybase (average from 5 member votes)
69/100 – Malt Maniacs (average from 5 maniac votes)

Dunglass was the name given to an experimental whisky produced for one year in 1967 at the Littlemill distillery. Whiskybase only list 4 independent bottlings of Dunglass from 1967 and two distillery 5-year-olds labelled ‘Pure Malt’. As much as I’d like to think my Dunglass 5yo was bottled in 1972 as a ‘single malt’ (as it’s classified on Whiskybase) I know it’s not the rare stuff from 1967. According to one auction site that sold a Dunglass 5yo ‘Pure Malt’ (old term for a blend) it was bottled in the 1990s. I also discovered online (so it’s bound to be true) that ‘Dunglass’ was a name used by Amalgamated Distilled Products (ADP) when selling whisky in Italy. ADP bought the Littlemill distillery in 1982. So, joining the dots, I’d say the Dunglass 5yo is a blend from the 1980s/90s that used a trading name inherited from purchasing the Littlemill distillery. If anyone else knows more please comment below.

Just when I thought I’d got it sorted out I see the Malt Maniacs classify the Dunglass 5yo as a single malt from the 1970s. AAARGH!!! But one of the maniacs, Serge Valentin, says he isn’t 100% sure it’s the experimental Littlemill from 1967. So I stand by what I said, that this is a more recent whisky, unfortunately.

Scoring 77/100 on Whiskybase is a below-average score. One voter who scores it 62/100 leaves these notes, “Grass and freshly cut barley. First you have the feeling of pleasant sweetness on the tongue, but after a short time oily bitter notes come to the fore. For me, this very young Littlemill bottling is little attractive, perhaps this is the reason why there are not very many bottles available?”

Clearly this dram is more of a talking point than for drinking. It may not be the original Dunglass of 1967 but it keeps the memory alive. By all accounts the original Dunglass single malt wasn’t very good, which explains why the experiment only lasted a short time.

Tasting notes, Serge Valentin, Whiskyfun.com:
Nose: light and very grainy, as expected. Gets quite grassy (hay, heavily sugared iced tea). Dried flowers, caramel, hints of praline.
Mouth: aromatically weak, sweetish… Hints of lavender ice cream, pear juice, apple juice.
Finish: rather long, and slightly peppery

Incidentally, Dunglass is a hamlet in the lowlands of Scotland, south of Edinburgh, with a coast on the North Sea. Dunglass Castle is a ruin, constructed between 1400-1542. Obviously there wasn’t any urgency in medieval Scotland to build affordable housing. Apparently the poet Robert Burns said of Dunglass “the most romantic sweet place I ever saw” when visiting in 1787. In 1919 the Usher family came to the Dunglass Estate. An ancestor, Andrew Usher, co-founded the North British Distillery, which is a grain distillery still active today. Andrew Usher is sometimes referred to as the “father of Scotch Whisky” because he perfected the eventual blending of whisky, which he started in the 1840s. This is probably why ‘Dunglass’ was chosen as a whisky name.

Here’s Ben of ‘A Dram A Day’ on YouTube with his thoughts about the Dunglass (April 2016):

Islay Mist 8-year-old

Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 10th January 2017

Ratings:
86.33/100 – Whiskybase (average from 3 member votes)

My auction miniature of the Islay Mist blend is certainly old but whether it’s the version mentioned on Whiskybase from the 1960s is debatable. I chose the rating because it’s the only one listed of seven versions of the 8yo that matches the text on my label saying “a unique blend of SCOTCH WHISKY” as opposed to starting “the unique blend…”

The current version of ‘Islay Mist’ is produced by MacDuff International, a blending company based in Glasgow, Scotland (established in 1992). Prior to this the blend was produced directly from the Laphroaig distillery, which is indicated on the label of my miniature as “D. Johnston & Co. (Laphroaig) Ltd.”. MacDuff International still list Islay Mist on their website as one of their whiskies along with Grand Macnish and Lauders.

MacDuff International say:
“Islay Mist Blended Scotch was originally created on the Scottish island of Islay in 1922 to celebrate the 21st birthday of Lord Margadale. It was thought that the local single malt Scotch, Laphroaig, might be too heavy for all the guests’ taste so this unique blend of Laphroaig with Speyside malts and grain whisky was born.”

Here’s the Scotch Test Dummies with their review of the modern Islay Mist 8yo (January 2017):

Tasgall 30-year-old

Bought: ASDA, 4th January 2017

Ratings:
76/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)
4/5 Stars – ASDA Website (average from 3 reviews)

‘Tasgall’ was the name ASDA superstore gave to its own brand of blended whisky, which appeared on the shelves in 2014. I was one of the first to mention Tasgall on whisky forums, where it soon became apparent that there was very little interest in this new blend. Priced at £60 for the 30yo and £50 for the 25yo, the Tasgall was more expensive than similar bottlings by Aldi and Lidl, which may explain the lack of interest. Towards the end of 2016 the inevitable happened and ASDA labelled the Tasgall ‘reduced to clear’, first by £10, then by half. The Tasgall is no longer listed on the ASDA website. Discontinued? It looks very like it.

The official tasting notes for the Tasgall 30yo say “full bodied and velvety smooth with rich fruitcake, honey and oak tannin flavours enveloped in a vanilla sweetness with delicate spice and floral notes”. The blend is formed from a combination of Highland and Speyside malts mixed with Lowland grain.

Scoring 76/100 on Whiskybase is a reasonable score for the Tasgall 30yo but as a point of reference, all 6 versions of Lidl’s Glenalba blend score 81/100 or more. That’s the sort of competition the Tasgall had. Nevertheless, comments on the ASDA website were quite favourable including “very rich and complex” and “this is a sensibly considered product which will give a strong sense of luxury to anyone who usually enjoys a regular blended whisky.” Curiously one reviewer mentions “rich peaty undertones”, which aren’t in the tasting notes. A later review says “no hint of peat”. Perhaps batch variations sometimes included a peat flavour from the Highland malt element. Or maybe someone’s taste buds were playing tricks on them.

On the tube and label of the Tasgall 30yo it says “exceptionally rare”. Nothing that sits on a supermarket shelf for 2 years is exceptionally rare but now that it’s gone bottles will be getting rarer. As an obscure blend it is unlikely to make a good investment but if you were fortunate enough to buy one of the last bottles for £25 it should soon double its money at auction. But after commission, postage, etc., you’d be better off drinking it or giving it as a present to a blend lover. I’m sure they’d appreciate it.

Royal Chester 12-year-old

Bought: Whisky Auction, 8th November 2016

Ratings:
None I can find.

‘Royal Chester’ sounds more like a racehorse than a whisky. I’ve been following whisky auctions since 2013 and never have I seen a bottle of the Royal Chester 12yo blend. You’d think therefore that it would be valuable but that’s not how the whisky market works. If it’s not a single malt or a known make with pedigree then it wont make much as an investment. Even if this whisky hails from the 1980s it’s still only £20-£25 maximum at auction. If I keep it for another 20 years it might reach £40.

If you have a bottle of whisky where there’s nothing on the Internet about it then the next port of call is to search for the bottler. In the case of ‘Royal Chester’ this is Campbell & Clark Ltd, Glasgow. According to the website ‘UK Companies List’, Campbell & Clark Ltd were incorporated on 9/11/1934 and dissolved on 19/02/2010. Their category was “wholesale alcohol and other drinks” with address c/o Speyside Distillery Co Ltd, Duchess Road, Glasgow, G73 1AU.

Campbell & Clark Ltd are listed on Whiskybase here for two releases of the Glen Mhor single malt, bottled in the mid 1990s. Searching for ‘Campbell & Clark Ltd’ reveals that the company mostly specialised in blended whisky for the American market. The earliest example I could find was ‘Clark’s Reserve’ from the 1950s but also ‘David Ross’, ‘Lord Nelson’ and ‘John Blair’. Not exactly famous whisky names but very typical from a time when lots of blends were being produced.

So why have the name ‘Royal Chester’? The term doesn’t appear to belong to the city of Chester in the northwest of England, which has no royal patronage. There is however a ‘Royal Chester Rowing Club’ founded in 1838 and one of the oldest rowing clubs in the United Kingdom. There’s also a steam train engine built in 1925 called the ‘Royal Chester’. But there’s nothing on the whisky bottle or box connecting it with either of these. For all I know the name was chosen randomly or comes from the Royal Chester Hotel, Nagasaki, Japan. The mystery continues!

royal-chester-12yo-75cl

Royal Culross 8-year-old

Bought: Whisky Auction, 8th November 2016

Ratings:
75.33/100 – Whiskybase (from 3 member votes – 43%, 70cl version)

The Whisky Exchange are currently selling the Royal Culross 8yo for £99.95 where they say “The blend was compiled by A Gillies & Co, then-owners of Glen Scotia, hence the similar bottle style. We estimate this bottle dates from the 1980s.” It can make between £35-£45 at auction with a box but as little as £20 without.

On the back of the bottle it says in a flowery script “By appointment. This warrant shall signify that A. Gillies & Co (Distillers) Ltd. Glasgow Scotland are appointed suppliers of Royal Culross Scotch Malt Whisky to the Provost, Magistrates and Councillors of The Royal Burgh of Culross, Fifeshire. Granted this day, 23rd April 1972.” Below this is an indecipherable signature of the provost, perhaps written after sampling some of the whisky.

I found an online whisky shop saying a bottle of Royal Culross was from the 1960s but clearly the blend only started to appear in the 1970s. Both a US and UK website for trademarks have A Gillies & Co registering ‘Royal Culross’ in 1974. The trademark expired in the mid 1990s. The UK website lists trademarks going back to 1876 with no mention of ‘Royal Culross’ before 1974.

Trying to find out more about the Royal Culross blend has proved quite tricky. Scoring a fraction over 75/100 on Whiskybase suggests quite an average whisky but what has gone into the blend? Clearly Glen Scotia malt is possible but the distillery was inactive for most of the 1980s. A. Gillies & Co became part of Amalgamated Distilled Products (ADP) from 1970 who bought Littlemill in 1982 before becoming part of Argyll Group in 1984. But Littlemill closed between 1984 and 1989, much like Glen Scotia. That’s not to say stock wasn’t being used for blends during this period. ADP also produced other whisky such as the Burberry blend.

Not that any of this matters to me because I bought this bottle because I like the dumpy shape and love the 1980s. Let’s just hope the taste is more inline with Bon Jovi than Sigue Sigue Sputnik!

royal-culross-8yo-75cl

Tasgall 25-year-old

Bought: ASDA Supermarket, 18th October 2016

Ratings:
79.75/100 – Whiskybase (average from 4 member votes)

‘Tasgall’ (meaning ‘cauldron of the Gods’ in Norse) is a brand name that ASDA Stores Ltd decided to use for this blended Scotch whisky. They released a 25yo and 30yo in late 2014 for £50 and £60 respectively. This may seem a good price for the age until you consider what Aldi and Lidl bring out for Christmas. It took 2 years before ASDA reduced the prices to £40 (25yo) and £50 (30yo). This tempted me into getting the 25yo mainly because of the You Tube review below. Comments online suggest there’s no clear winner between the 25yo and 30yo in terms of taste so the price of the 25yo won it for me. But at £40 would this blend tempt a single malt drinker away from the likes of the Ardbeg 10yo or cheaper options like the Highland Park 12yo or Glenmorangie 10yo? Probably not. I suspect the Tasgall is aimed at the occasional blend drinker (or as a gift to one) where seeing a significant age statement means ‘better’.

On the tube of the 25yo it says “oak-aged blend combining the spicy, floral flavours of Highland malts, the sweetness of Speyside malts and the purity and strength of Lowland grain whisky”. Clearly a load of marketing waffle but at least it tells us the regions that contribute to the mix. The official tasting notes say “vibrant, full bodied and sweet with creamy vanilla notes, slowly revealing a rich, elegant finish with lingering hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and baked fruits”. It certainly sounds nice enough and reviews online tend to agree with the consensus being that the Tasgall 25yo is very drinkable.

A slight annoyance about the Tasgall 25yo is seeing “very rare” printed on it. No it’s not! Anything that’s been available in a supermarket for over 2 years isn’t rare. One review online says the Tasgall is collectable. Clearly this wasn’t written by a collector and is probably part of the marketing guff. In the present market a non-rare blended whisky isn’t a good investment (even a 25yo or 30yo) but who is to say that the current collecting criteria wont change. Perhaps in 2050 old supermarket blends will be all the rage and Scotland will win the World Cup! The future is in the lap of the Gods, having jumped out of the cauldron.

‘Tasting Britain’ review on You Tube (January 2015):

tasgall-25yo-70c-asda