Tag Archives: Cask Strength

Dalmunach 3-year-old, 2016, Aberdeen Whisky Shop Exclusive

Bought: Aberdeen Whisky Shop, 21st May 2020

Ratings:

85/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)

Dalmunach is one of the newest distilleries on the Scottish whisky scene that’s owned by a big players in the industry, Pernod Ricard (Chivas Brothers). The ultra-modern distillery was built in 2014 on the site of the former Imperial distillery (also owned by Pernod Ricard), which was demolished in 2013 simply because it wasn’t economical to be refurbished. Dalmunach distillery is in Speyside not far from the Dailuaine distillery. The name ‘Dalmunach’ comes from a nearby pool on the River Spey.

In August 2019 I spotted on a whisky forum that 4-year-old bottles from the new Dalmunach distillery were now on sale as part of ‘The Distillery Reserve Collection’. Unfortunately this bottle was only available in distillery shops belonging to Pernod Ricard. As fortune would have it I was intending to visit one of these, the Strathisla distillery in Keith but not until October. Before making plans I contacted the distillery to ask about the Dalmunach bottle but sadly they’d sold out. At 64.5% it was going to be hot but a nice chance to try something new. Currently this bottle scores 82.1/100 on Whiskybase from 11 member votes.

I had to wait until May 2020 before getting my next chance to claim a bottle of Dalmunach, this time from the Aberdeen Whisky Shop. This exclusive release was put together by the independent bottler Duncan Taylor as part of their ‘The Octave’ series. Of the 22 releases of Dalmunach listed on Whiskybase, 15 of them have come from Duncan Taylor, 14 of which as part of ‘The Octave’ range. As the name suggests, the whisky has had its final phase of maturation in a smaller octave cask (in this case ex-sherry) to “enhance its hue, taste, form and character”.

The majority of ‘The Octave’ releases score in the mid 80s out of 100, which goes to validate Duncan Taylor’s 40+ years of experience of small cask maturation. For my 3-year-old example (5 months spent in an octave cask) a review says “needs more ageing” but adds “looking forward to trying older Dalmunach in the future”. Most definitely!

Talisker 15-year-old, Diageo Special Release 2019

Bought: Master of Malt, 28th October 2019

Ratings:

87.82/100 – Whiskybase (average from 492 member votes)

84/100 – Ralfy (his YouTube review below)

I was quite glad when I realised that the Diageo ‘special release’ of Talisker for 2020 was an 8-year-old. My instant reaction was “that’s the same age statement as the 2018 release, so I’ve got it already”. Complete nonsense I know because they’re obviously different whiskies but, heck, it’s the same age! If they’d made the 2020 a 9yo, or 11yo, I would have felt compelled to get it but…. another 8yo? No, I’ll save my money. The Cardhu 11yo looked much more interesting, which I’ll be blogging about at a later date.

I’m a big fan of the standard Talisker 10yo. It’s in my top 3 favourite go-to whiskies. When I finally tried the distillery’s 18yo release I was rather disappointed. The 10yo is youthful and vibrant, which was mellowed out and lost after another 8 years in the cask. It therefore came as no surprise that Ralfy only gives this 15yo release 84/100, which is quite a low mark from him. Although 87.82/100 on Whiskybase is a great score, the younger 8yo from the previous year breaks 88/100 with over 630 votes.

It’s often said that Islay whiskies taste great when young, and Ardbeg have embraced that with their 5yo ‘Wee Beastie’ release but can the same be said for Talisker? Perhaps not as young as 5 but maybe 10 years is the optimal age, with enough maturity to have depth but still youthful to have that zing on your taste buds.

Whatever my amateurish, unscientific opinion, comments online for the Talisker 15yo have been very favourable. Remarks included “brilliant Talisker that reminds me somewhat of the 57° North”, “great whisky, a wide palette of derivatives, wonderful soft smoky peat notes framed by sweet cream, excellent balance, depth, very smooth, polished” and “peaty, salty, malty and really bold and impressive”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: A seaweed iodine note is the first to spring from the glass – but it’s sunny and inviting, not industrial and heavy. Kelloggs Cornflakes, honey-roasted cashews, tangy cinnamon, warm nutmeg, and caramel notes build on the sense of sunshine, while an undercurrent of peat smoke brings depth. Water rounds it all out a bit and gives more of a velvety impression.

Palate: The rush of sweetness is a real surprise – on the front of the palate there are peach notes, raisin and perhaps red cherry. Then it’s all about that rich spice, along with the peat – a delicious abutment of pepper heat, bright allspice and rolling smoke. With water, it gets even sweeter and a little quieter, but still really tasty and mouth-filling.

Finish: Long and rich, but with a happy lightness, too.

Here’s Ralfy on YouTube with his thoughts about the Talisker 15yo Special Release by Diageo (Sept 2020):

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):

Talisker 8-year-old Special Release 2018

Bought: Master of Malt, 18th September 2018

Ratings:
87.92/100 – Whiskybase (average from 321 member votes)
9/10 – Whisky Wednesday (his YouTube review here)

I must admit I wasn’t even aware of the 2018 Special Releases from Diageo until this Talisker 8-year-old appeared towards the end of the run. It may even have been the last of the 10. The previous 9 were either too expensive or too mediocre for me to care. Among them was a 28-year-old from the closed distillery Pittyvaich, which I’ve rarely heard good things about. But as a collector’s item I’m sure it will do very well. No doubt this Talisker 8yo will do the same. Thankfully its youthfulness was its saving grace with regards to price. Diageo kept it down to £70 but 8 months later and auction prices are hitting £130.

No doubt the chosen age statement of 8 years was doffing its cap to the classic Talisker 8yo last seen in the 1980s but back then it was still only 45.8%. This special release tips the scales at 59.4% so it’s like the 57 Degrees on steroids with an age worth owning up to. I’m beginning to wish I’d bought two bottles!

Not surprisingly the reviews for this tantalising Talisker have been very favourable. Comments online include “the most flavoursome whisky I have had in living memory, and I am very old”, “this is superb, I cannot see how they got such complexity and depth in an 8yo” and Serge of Whisky Fun summaries with “fantastic whisky, one of the best quality/age ratio out there, in my opinion” and rated it 91/100.

As tempting as it is to keep this special Talisker as in investment I feel it has to be drunk at some stage. I’d have to hit rock bottom before considering selling it, even when it starts getting over £200 at auction. As a big fan of this Skye distillery it would be a travesty not to taste this little beauty. Something for a special occasion.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Super medicinal: this one is all about the Bonjela notes. There’s metallic peat smoke of course, along with topical pineapple, strawberry, roast pork, peppery vanilla, and a toffee backdrop.

Palate: Powerful – this one packs a punch. There’s pepper, wood smoke, pork sausages on a barbeque, apple sauce, coffee beans, butterscotch and blackcurrant. There’s a cranberry-citrus sharpness, too.

Finish: Long and lingering, and all about that woodsmoke-fruit balance.

Here’s Mark ‘Jedi’ Dermul with his thoughts on the Talisker 8yo on YouTube, which he scores an excellent 86/100 (April 2019):

Old Pulteney 2006 11-year-old (Cadenhead)

Bought: Cadenhead, 5th December 2017

Ratings:
84.78/100 – Whiskybase (average from 11 member votes)

When you look at Old Pulteney (OP) in Jim Murray’s ‘Whisky Bible 2018’ you realise how rare it is to see independent bottlings from this illustrious distillery. In fact Mr Murray only mentions Cadenhead and Gordon & MacPhail. Of these only the two bottles by Cadenhead are cask strength. The distillery itself rarely releases a whisky that hasn’t been diluted down. But if you’re a fan of a particular distillery it doesn’t take long before you want to try the raw liquid straight from the barrel. And as a fan of OP, this 11yo by Cadenhead gives me my change to do just that. It’s Old Pulteney au naturale.

My OP 11yo is made from a combination of two hogshead casks distilled in 2006 and bottled at 55.8% in 2017. It comes from ex-bourbon barrels, which is the standard wood used by the distillery. 570 bottles were produced. Although Jim Murray doesn’t review this particular dram he scores a similar Cadenhead 2006 11yo a very respectable 87/100. This was also an ex-bourbon hogshead but only one barrel was used to produce 294 bottles. It scores 82.39/100 on Whiskybase from 25 votes. My 11yo scores a fantastic 84.78/100 from 11 votes so far, which suggests a marginally better dram.

Cadenhead release cask strength Old Pulteney quite regularly so if it’s something you’re interested in then keep an eye on their website. My 11yo was bottled in 2017 but Cadenhead have already bottled two OP 12yo cask strengths in 2018 (one of which is still available on their website for £54.30 from a run of only 282 bottles, so cask strength AND single cask).

Tasting notes by Cadenhead:

Nose: Toffee popcorn, cereals, barley sugar, developing rich notes with this coastal dram. The nose is great now into the palate!
Palate: The palate is driving in some incredible richness with some fresh ground black pepper, haggis crisps, cardamon pod. We also find a sweet note after this dram is left to open in the glass.
Finish: The finish is really good with a hint of red liquorice, banana loaf and marshmallow, the finish coats the palate with a lingering sweetness before the spicy mid note on the palate comes back in for a few moments.

Aberlour A’bunadh Batch 59

Bought: Waitrose, 18th October 2017

Ratings:
87.52/100 – Whiskybase (from 23 member votes)

Aberlour distillery first introduced the A’bunadh (meaning ‘the origin’) back in 1997 so 2017 marked 20 years of this delectable dram. Each batch is cask strength at around 60% and is a single malt blended from barrels aged between 5 and 25 years. From the batches I’ve tried over the years I’ve never detected young whisky in the mix in a negative way. Whoever blends the A’bunadh at Aberlour distillery certainly knows how to combine young and old spirit for best effect. The A’bunadh is exclusively matured in Spanish oak from Oloroso sherry butts and is bottled without being chill filtered or having additional colouring. This is natural sherried Speyside single malt at its very best.

All whisky collectors have regrets and one of mine is deciding not to buy an A’bunadh batch 28 or 29 in 2014. A shop in Holland I was using had them for €89. It seemed too expensive at the time but bottles are now fetching over £120 at auctions today. The earliest batch I’ve tried is No.45 and I saved a 10cl sample of it for posterity. I feel like I’ve missed out on the evolution of the A’bunadh. But according to reviews it’s not as if the earlier batches were better than the most recent releases. The whole point behind the A’bunadh was to replicate an old bottle of Aberlour from 1898, which was discovered at the distillery in 1975. So batch 1 should in theory be very similar in taste and quality to batch 60. But everyone will have their favourite and specific tasting notes vary from batch to batch.

Scoring over 87/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score but very typical for an A’bunadh. If you have batch 59, and you enjoy good sherry-bomb malt, you wont be disappointed!

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Dark chocolate and raisins, with underlying vanilla-rich malt persisting.
Palate: Coffee and walnut cake, blackcurrant squash, mince pie crust and ground clove.
Finish: Beeswax and honey, damson jam, black pepper, nutmeg and digestive biscuits.

Ballechin 2005 ‘Straight from the Cask’ Bordeaux Cask 11-year-old

Bought: Master of Malt, 2nd August 2017

Ratings:
87.75/100 – Whiskybase (average from 4 member votes)

According to Whiskybase there haven’t been many distilleries to mature or finish whisky in Bordeaux casks. Arran, Auchentoshan, Bowmore and Glen Garioch have done a small handful but Edradour are the experts when it comes to using wood from this illustrious French wine region. The small Pitlochry distillery, owned by Signatory, produced 25 Bordeaux cask releases since 2005. 20 of these were their unpeated ‘Edradour’ range but in 2017 they added 5 variations of their peated ‘Ballechin’. All 5 were from single casks, amounting to just over 400 50cl bottles per cask, and gradually released through 2017 as part of the ‘Straight from the Cask’ series.

Peat and French wine? Really? It’s fair to say that in the early days it didn’t always work but since 2012 none of the Edradour Bordeaux releases have scored less than 82/100 on Whiskybase. Of the 5 ‘Ballechin’ bottlings produced this year, 3 are rated and mine is fractionally the lowest with a fantastic 87.75/100. Bottled ‘straight from the cask’ at a natural strength of 55.7%, all 407 bottles of this 11yo quickly sold out. I’m glad I got one and can now tick ‘Ballechin’ off my whisky wishlist.

Note: ‘Bellachin’ is the name of an estate in Perthshire and also the name of a distillery in the same region that operated between 1810 and 1927.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Salted & pepper crackers, truffle oil, raisins and dried apricot.
Palate: Jammy red fruit notes are up-front and lip-smackingly sweet, with burnt oak and cut grass notes in support.
Finish: BBQ meats with a honey glaze.

Glen Garioch 1997 ‘Batch 12’

Bought: Glen Garioch Distillery Shop, 12th September 2016

Ratings:
89.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
82.82/100 – Whiskybase (average from 24 member votes)

I bought this bottle of Glen Garioch from the distillery shop following my tour in September 2016. My blog about this visit can be found here. Initially I fancied buying a hand-filled bottle but at £135 a pop it seemed rather extravagant. The pre-packaged 1997 ‘Batch 12’ was a more pocket friendly £51. Bottled in 2012 it’s 14-15 years old and cask strength at 56.7%. I’d seen it at airports and online so I knew it wasn’t very exclusive but I wanted a memento of my visit and 1997 was a significant year for Glen Garioch. The distillery fell silent in 1995 but started production again in 1997 so a bottle from that year celebrates the rebirth of a historic and treasured Aberdeenshire business.

Scoring 89.5/100 in the Whisky Bible classifies this dynamic dram from Glen Garioch as a ‘very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying’. It’s only 0.5 points away from being ‘brilliant’ according to the author, Jim Murray. His review consists of “I have to say: I have long been a bit of a voice in the wilderness among whisky professionals as to regards this distillery. This not so subtly muscled malt does my case no harm whatsoever.”

Reaching nearly 83/100 on Whiskybase suggests a very good single malt. Comments about the Glen Garioch 1997 include “very tasty, nice bourbon-barrel whisky”, “I liked it a lot” and “a very clean and fresh Glen Garioch, on sweet barley and tasting rather young”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt (where it’s still available for £75.65):

Nose: Creamy and sweet, with notes of vanilla ice cream and banana fritters.
Palate: A kick of cinnamon and pepper, but this remains firmly in ‘caramel and orchard fruit’ country.
Finish: Apple turnovers dusted with brown sugar.

Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about this Glen Garioch 1997 (August 2015):

Bunnahabhain 9-year-old (SMWS 10.93)

Bought: SMWS, 6th May 2016

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

Those who have read my SMWS Review (Scotch Malt Whisky Society) wont be surprised to hear that this Bunnahabhain will be my last ever SMWS bottle in my collection. Although the majority of what this illustrious independent bottler produce is excellent it was their customer service that let them down and I allowed my membership to expire last year. Nevertheless the opportunity to get a cask-strength Bunnahabhain was too good to resist, so I purchased 10.93 entitled ‘Sweet but Dangerous’ before leaving the society.

I love the standard 46.3% bottling of the Bunnahabhain 12yo, perhaps a little too much, which is why this 9yo by the SMWS failed to impress me. The distillery’s 12yo is mature, refined, smooth and well crafted. Unfortunately this 9yo has none of those qualities and at 61.8% it was very difficult to tame. Maybe I didn’t get the water right, or perhaps it will improve over time as it sits in an open bottle. It wasn’t bad but I wouldn’t go as far as scoring it 88/100 as one member does on Whiskybase. For me it was more like an 85/100 compared to 90/100 for the standard 12yo.

Here are the tasting notes as provided by the SMWS for the Bunnahabhain ‘Sweet and Dangerous’ 9yo:

“Flavour profile: Peated

The nose took us to a beach bonfire – peat smoke, heather, gorse, salty sea air and moules marinières – but one panellist had his own barbeque in a hospital car-park. With water, we imagined coal-tar, liquorice and teriyaki-glazed ribs, an Islay High Street in winter and Dick Van Dyke’s chimney-sweep cap. The neat palate was enormous – deep smoke, chewy dark toffee, mechanics overalls, a disinfected operating theatre, hints of farmyard and pork and apple sausages roasting on a smoky barbeque. The reduced palate – liquorice and clove confectionery – sweet but dangerous (like Mary Poppins!) – and all enjoyed down-wind of an Islay pagoda.

Drinking tip: At a beach bonfire – or while watching a certain movie.”

Ardbeg ‘Kelpie’ Committee Release

Bought: Ardbeg Shop, 26th March 2017

Ratings:
94/100 – Whisky Bible 2018
86.37/100 – Whiskybase (average from 193 member votes)

Ardbeg Day is here, and so too is my blog post about the Kelpie Committee Release. This is the second year I’ve been a committee member and endured the 8am bun fight in March to secure a bottle. At least this time the Ardbeg website didn’t go into meltdown. The March release shares the same name as the June release but it’s a higher strength and much more limited in numbers. Each year the price creeps up by a few pounds. This year I paid £89 but it quickly sells out and bottles instantly start making between £130-£140 at auction. Use this knowledge for future releases to tell your partner it’s an investment 😉 but privately you know you’ll be drinking it.

Here is how the previous four ‘Ardbeg Day’ committee releases have faired on Whiskybase:

  • Dark Cove (2016) – 87.94/100 from 273 votes
  • Perpetuum (2015) – 86.72/100 from 234 votes
  • Auriverdes (2014) – 85.7/100 from 616 votes
  • Ardbog (2013) – 87.36/100 from 738 votes

After the success of the Dark Cove last year I’m not surprised that the rating for the Kelpie has dipped. With 86.37/100 it’s currently 4th out of the last 5 releases but that’s still an excellent score. Comments left on Whiskybase about the Kelpie include “rather clean and certainly not bad, but there is nothing exciting about it”, “solid whisky, with some unpolished but pleasant smells and flavours” and “a big and unapologetic Ardbeg”.

Here’s Great Drams on YouTube with their thoughts about the Ardbeg Kelpie (May 2017):