Tag Archives: Highland

Blair Athol 12-year-old ‘Flora & Fauna’

Bought: The Whisky World, 28th August 2020

Ratings:

78/100 – Malt Whisky Companion 2015

83.09/100 – Whiskybase (average from 727 member votes)

If you’re ever fortunate enough to find yourself in Aberdeen (Scotland), the place I associate with Diageo’s ‘Flora & Fauna’ (F&F) range of single malts is the Atholl Hotel on King’s Gate. The bar is open to the public as well as paying guests. The hotel is set in a grand granite building in the wealthiest part of town so I’d recommend wearing a suit or posh frock, or perhaps both because it’s always cold in Aberdeen! The bar itself has a calm décor of light wood and subtle tartan fabrics with ample seating and the obligatory 60” TV stuck on the wall. The whisky selection isn’t vast (about 30 options including blends) but it’s dominated by F&F bottles, which take pride of place on the shelves at the back of the bar.

I was amused to read in Michael Jackson’s book ‘Malt Whisky Companion’ that he considers the Blair Athol 12yo to be a mid-afternoon drink. It makes me wonder what he recommends for breakfast! Mr Jackson says of the palate “spiced cake, candied lemon peel, lots of flavour development” and 78/100 puts this dram firmly in the “worth tasting” category.

Scoring slightly over 83/100 on Whiskybase from 727 votes makes the Blair Athol 12yo one of the highest scoring F&F bottlings still available today. There are plenty of people singing its praises. Comments online include “very decent whisky with a nice fruit component”, “impressive malt, very intense”, “mature, delicious and full of character” and “an extremely tasty all-rounder. Simply classic”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Nutty with sherried notes. Gentle peat. Crisp.

Palate: Good body, malty and sweet. Citrus and the peels thereof.

Finish: Peat smoke, syrup. Good sweetness, bittersweet, drying.

Here’s Swedish Whisky Girl on YouTube (August 2020) outside Blair Athol distillery in Pitlochry with her thoughts on the 12yo:

Auchnagie ‘Classic Selection’ (43%)

Bought: Master of Malt, 17th March 2020

Ratings:

78.27/100 – Whiskybase (average from 28 member votes)

Auchnagie is the sixth and final example in my ‘Classic Selection’ from The Lost Distillery Company (TLDC). The only one I’m missing from the seven lost distilleries TLDC have reproduced is the Jericho.

Auchnagie distillery ran for almost 100 years from 1812 to 1911. During that time it had seven different owners and was closed for lengthy periods. The distillery itself was located in the hamlet of Tulliemet, in the Ballinluig area of Perthshire, 6 miles south-east of Pitlochry, which makes it a Highland distillery. Peat used in production came from the nearby Loch Broom. This natural resource had been formed from moss and heather, which gave off a delicate floral note when fired. The final owners, who acquired the distillery on a long lease in 1890, were John Dewar & Sons. They went on to build Aberfeldy distillery in 1896-98. The potential of this new distillery is probably one of the reasons why John Dewar & Sons closed Auchnagie for good in 1911.

Scoring just over 78/100 on Whiskybase, the Auchnagie gets the lowest mark of all seven of the ‘Classic Selection’ by TLDC. Nevertheless, the three reviewers on Amazon give it 4.7/5 and seem to like it a lot. Comments online include, “a nice, easy / light starter for a tasting line-up – or otherwise an aperitif whisky”, “probably the best I’ve tasted from the TLDC line”, “I thought it was wonderful with an early full flavor of cedar ending with vanilla” and “a great dram at this price”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Digestive biscuit, banana and thick waves of honey.

Palate: Sponge cake (with yet more honey), rice pudding, dried apricot.

Finish: A subtle lick of baking spice appears on the finish.

Here’s Whiskey Vault with their thoughts about the Auchnagie on YouTube, December 2018:

Dalmore ‘King Alexander III’

Bought: The Whisky World, 28th August 2020

Ratings:

86/100 – Whisky Bible 2020

85.75/100 – Whiskybase (average from 14 member votes)

I recently had a significant birthday and I wanted to buy myself a special whisky to mark the occasion. Browsing around online I spotted a good discount on the Dalmore ‘King Alexander III’. Over the years I’ve only heard good things about this Dalmore, which is remarkable because it’s NAS (no-age statement), chill-filtered, 40% and laced with Dalmore’s famous E150 colourant. On the surface this whisky ought to be mediocre at best until research reveals it’s a work of art. Richard Paterson, Dalmore’s Master Distiller, took whisky matured in 6 different casks (wine, Madeira, Sherry, Marsala, Port & Kentucky bourbon) and managed to harmonise them into something quite magical. In blending terms he almost did the impossible.

With the King Alex III firmly in my sights I had a look on YouTube for recent reviews. Scotch 4 Dummies started in 2015 and their ninth video in October of that year discussed this Dalmore. It was their first perfect score from all four of them. 5 years later they reviewed it again (below) and, to their surprise and mine, King Alex III got another perfect score. I’ve watched their videos many times and they’re usually pretty critical. Whiskies I’ve thought were perfect have been marked down. And after 5 years of trying other whiskies, to then give the same incredible mark to this Dalmore is amazing. I was sold!

Jim Murray’s score of 86/100 in his book ‘Whisky Bible’ dates back to 2009. Yes, seriously. Normally I wouldn’t include such an out-of-date review but, according to the Scotch 4 Dummies, the quality hasn’t changed in 5 years so why not 11! Mr Murray summaries with “starts brightly with all kinds of barley sugar, fruit and decent age and oak combinations, plus some excellent spice prickle. So far so good…and obviously thoughtfully and complexly structured. But then vanishes without trace on finish.” You have to think that 46% would have helped in that respect but I’m biting my tongue here. Other comments online include “interesting whisky and pleasant to drink” and “a masterclass of cask selection and blending skill” but there are quite a few references to the dram feeling ‘hollow’ and ‘thin’ with numerous remarks about the short finish.

The Dalmore ‘King Alexander III’ is clearly not a whisky for beginners. It’s hard enough contemplating how to bring 6 different cask maturations together let alone noise and taste them. But with so many whisky ‘experts’ berating NAS, colourant, chill-filtration and 40%, their influence can make it very easy, even for experienced whisky drinkers, to pre-judge this Dalmore. Perhaps my best option is to try it in a blind tasting. Whatever the outcome, I’m pleased to add this legendary bottle to my collection.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Malty and utterly Dalmore. Seville orange zest, Parfait Amour, malty cereal, barley and chocolate. Creamy vanilla fudge, tropical fruit with a vaguely vinous quality.

Palate: Medium, rounded. Winter berries, spice, zesty orange. Liqueurs emerge; Grand Marnier, kirsch and Frangelico.

Finish: Peppery with well-integrated oak and the claret makes a last minute appearance.

Here’s Scotch 4 Dummies with their second review of the Dalmore King Alexander III (YouTube, March 2020):

Gerston ‘Classic Selection’ (43%)


Bought: Amazon, 31st July 2020

Ratings:

81.22/100 – Whiskybase (average from 25 member votes)

Gerston distillery, of which there were two incarnations, was founded in 1796 by Francis Swanson on his farm near the Thurso river at Halkirk. In modern terms it’s not far from Old Pulteney distillery in Wick but not as far north as Wolfburn distillery on the north coast of Scotland. Halkirk is only 14 miles south of Wolf Burn. In 1825 Francis handed the business over to his son James who ran it until 1872 when it was sold. By 1875 Gerston distillery was closed and eventually demolished in 1882. 76 years as a successful family run business then 10 years to be destroyed. It goes to show how much pride and care people take when it’s something they or their family started. This reminds me, I must buy some more Glenfarclas!

There was a second Gerston distillery, 1886 to 1914 but ‘The Lost Distillery Company’ (TLDC) focus their attention on the original incarnation with this intriguing vatted malt, which blends together modern whisky in an attempt to recreate the Gerston single malt experience. The distillery used local peat, which had quite a briny, salty edge to it as a consequence of repeated glacial cover during the Ice Age. TLDC mention smoke and salt in their tasting notes but not peat (nor does any other review I can find) so it must be quite subtle (more sweet peat than medicinal). It sounds like Old Pulteney could be a significant contributor to the mix with the salt and brine.

Scoring 81.22/100 on Whiskybase is a reasonable score for the Gerston. In fact it’s almost identical to the 81.23/100 score for the standard Old Pulteney 12yo, so you know what to expect. Comments online include “love the bottle, light colour but packs a punch, sweet nose then a salty taste of the sea” and “pleased with this whisky, sweet and salty. Interesting story behind this product, keen to try more in the range.”

It is said that at its peak Gerston whisky was purchased by Lord Thurso of Thurso Castle and introduced to prominent politicians such as Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel. Other notable consumers included the Duke of Wellington and the Archbishop of York, so you’re in interesting company when you take a sip. Aaaaah, to have a time machine!

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: New leather, dried barley, charred oak and apple turnover.

Palate: Peanut brittle, olive oil, mint leaf and more pastry notes.

Finish: A subtly salty kick on the finish.

Here’s ‘Whisky Wednesday’ with his thoughts about the Gerston miniature on YouTube (July 2017):

Old Pulteney 2006, 1 litre (Travel Retail)

Bought: World of Whisky, 2nd October 2019

Ratings:
91/100 – Scotch Malt Whisky
83.15/100 – Whiskybase (average from 29 member votes)

In recent years I’ve found it increasing hard to find interesting whisky at airports. The shelves always seem to contain fairly generic, predictable stock, the bulk of which is NAS (no age statement), which suppliers can churn out year after year. If it has an age statement on it like 10yrs, 12yrs, etc., you can probably find it elsewhere. The words ‘travel retail exclusive’ rarely ring true. All these bottles are very reproducible. It was time to find something different. Enter the Old Pulteney (OP) 2006.

Although strictly speaking the OP 2006 is NAS, it’s bottled on the 22nd January 2019. This means it’s a 12yo (unless it was distilled between 1st – 21st Jan 2006, which would make it a 13yo). At just over £50 for 100cl, does this 12yo really hold water against the standard 12yo often sold for £25? Absolutely. Not only is the 2006 unique in comparison because of its stated distillation year but it’s also 46% compared to the 40% of the standard 12yo.

William of ‘Scotch Malt Whisky’ rates the OP 2006 a fantastic 91/100. He criticises some reviewers for underrating this malt and concludes with “this is an outstanding example of a whisky of this age and the cask type used in its maturation”. Other comments online include “an interesting and solid “under the radar” whisky”, “a very good young bourbon malt…..straightforward and simple, but with a dense and rich taste” and “Old Pulteney never let you down, they are always consistent. If you are a fan then this won’t disappoint”.

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):

Glendronach 10-year-old ‘The Forgue’

Bought: World of Whisky, 1st November 2018

Ratings:
82/100 – Whiskybase (average from 75 member votes)

I’ve had this 1-litre ‘Travel Retail Exclusive’ bottle of Glendronach since it first appeared towards the end of 2018 but I’ve not blogged about it until now for a couple of reasons. Firstly I was hoping someone might add a good video review on YouTube but that’s not happened yet. Secondly rumour has it that Travel Retail ‘exclusives’ only remain exclusive for one year before other shops can start to sell them. This would help with more reviews, tasting notes, etc. Unfortunately this doesn’t appear to be the case with the Glendronach ‘Forgue’. It seems that, much like the Kilchoman ‘Coull Point’, Travel Retail have bought up all the stock of the Forgue and are keeping it to themselves.

When I started collecting whisky in 2013 Glendronach was one of the great recovery stories. The distillery was mothballed between 1996 and 2002 but in 2008 it was acquired by the BenRiach Distillery Company who rejuvenated it with some fantastic releases. The Glendronach 15yo ‘Revival’ distilled before 1996 will probably always be a classic. Sadly interest in the distillery among general whisky buyers maybe waning with only the single cask releases getting the limelight. I can’t say I’m surprised because the bottle presentation hasn’t changed in over 10 years and is looking tired and dated. Time for another revamp Glendronach!

I’ve sometimes referred to the Glendronach as the ‘poor man’s Macallan’ so it makes sense to compare this 10yo with the last example of the Macallan 10yo ‘Sherry Oak’. The Forgue fairs quite well with 82/100 on Whiskybase compared with the Macallan’s 83.2/100 (from 336 votes). The Glendronach gets comments of “fair in price…..a delicious dram”, “it’s perfectly alright” and “enjoyable dram, some nice aroma’s and flavours, though it’s not very mindblowing, just pretty subtle”. Hardly brilliant remarks but probably fair. It’s a 10-year-old after all.

Official tasting notes:

Nose: A dance of Seville blood orange and cherry, with ripe barley, roast chestnuts and winter-spiced cocoa.

Taste: Sweet Valencia orange and Morello cherries, with rolling waves of ripe barley. As the flavour deepens, savour dark currants, praline toffee and earthy brambles.

Finish: A richly satisfying, lingering finish of orange-laced tobacco and ground nutmeg.

Strathearn – Private Cask Club, Cask 005

Bought: Online auction, 8th October 2018

Ratings:
Listed on Whiskybase here but no rating as yet.

Strathearn is another relatively new distillery, which has the claim to fame of the smallest in Scotland. It’s certainly the only one I’ve seen described as a ‘micro’ distillery. Situated in the southern highlands, Strathearn got planning permission at the start of 2013 and on the 18th October of that year the first cask was filled. The bottle of single malt I purchased at auction was distilled 12 days later on the 30th October and placed in cask no.005. Production comes from 2 stills – an 800 litre wash and a 400 litre charge. Rather than use the industry standard 200 litre barrels Strathearn have opted for the 50 litre ‘octave’. Hardly surprising since a typical spirit run is only 100 litres.

Strathearn use their own maris otter barley in the whisky making process. Well it is a farm after all. Initially they distilled into American oak and French oak barrels but recent releases have young spirit maturing in mulberry, chestnut and even peated acacia wood casks. By early 2017 Strathearn had withdrawn 12 products because of issues with the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association). Thankfully this doesn’t seem to be holding them back with their experimenting. Long may that continue!

Towards the end of 2016 Strathearn’s inaugural release was done by auction through Whisky Auctioneer. I followed it with interest but even the cheapest bottle at £315 was about £200 more than I would have considered paying, especially at 50cl rather than 70cl. Bottle no.1 went for a staggering £4,150. Interestingly the pictures of the bottles on the auction site had a blank space where the cask number should go. You would assume it was cask no.001 but the distilling date was 11th December 2013, nearly 2 months after the first barrel was filled. I can only assume this is because all the early casks were bought by the distillery’s ‘Private Cask Club’. My bottle from cask no.005 is the earliest example of distilling from Strathearn that I’ve seen on the market.

After the inaugural release it seemed the only way to own a bottle of Strathearn was by being a Private Cask Club member or finding a bottle at auction. By 2018 (if not 2017) Strathearn made a bottle of single malt available from their online shop but at £145 for 50cl it was still a bit steep. Thankfully more private casks were being bottled and appearing at auction where a typical price was £65-£80 for 70cl. Time to make a purchase!

The good thing about using smaller barrels is that there is a bigger surface to surface ratio between spirit and wood compared to a bigger barrel. This might not necessarily make the spirit taste older than its years if it comes from a smaller cask than the industry standard but it can influence the taste. My bottle is less than 4 years old but the spirit has drawn an amazing colour from the French oak, along with an augmented flavour:

Nose: Very fruity with spices (cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg), hint of pepper, honey and some citrus.

Taste: The sweetness and spices come through with a creamy fruit yoghurt at play in the background. Elements of the French oak wood become clearer, which were hinted at in the nose.

Finish: A good length with a pleasant warmth of after-spices and almost a floral tinge.

Glendronach 21-year-old ‘Parliament’

Bought: Amazon, 6th April 2018

Ratings:
76/100 – Whisky Bible 2018
85/100 – Whiskyfun
89.58/100 – Whiskybase (average from 21 member votes)
96/100 and 91/100 – Scotch Test Dummies (YouYube video below)

In the Whisky Bible 2016 author Jim Murray’s rating of the Glendronach 21yo was a fantastic 91.5/100 and ended with “Memorable stuff”. In the 2017 issue of the Bible the 21yo had disappeared and in 2018 Mr Murray introduces his thoughts on the 21yo ‘Parliament’. All around him the status of Glendronach has been rising but he gives the 21yo a lowly score of 76/100 and remarks, “myopically one dimensional, rambles on and on, sulphur-tongued, bitter and does its best to leave a bad taste in the mouth whilst misrepresenting its magnificent land.” It’s worth noting that the 2017 Bible contained reviews of 27 different bottles of Glendronach but in 2018 that’s shrunk by more than half to 13. Perhaps Mr Murray has fallen out of love with this up-and-coming Highland distillery, because of the whisky or maybe something else entirely.

I’m reminded of the old joke ‘opinions are like arseholes – everyone has one’. But arseholes are generally very similar, whereas opinions can vary greatly. Mr Murray’s thoughts about the Glendronach 21yo are like a square peg in a round hole of shared opinion, if you pardon the mental image. I’ve found it impossible to discover anyone else who dislikes this whisky as much as he does. Most people adore it, which makes me wonder if Mr Murray had a bad sample. There are certainly lots of different batches of the ‘Parliament’. Mine was bottled on the 29th January 2018 so after the Whisky Bible 2018 went into print. Although Mr Murray’s opinion about the 21yo is a bit strange I respect him enough to breath a sigh of relief that it wasn’t directed at my batch.

89.58/100 on Whiskybase for my particular release of the Parliament is a fantastic score but quite typical of all the batches of this 21yo. A comment about the flavour says “elegant, expensive leathery notes, more olorosso built up on palate for boldness, spicy sherry coat with ample of creamy sugar laden of fruits.” Whiskyfun score the Parliament 85/100 in August 2017 with the comment “rather fine, just not too complex. And quite easy on the fruits”.

Here’s the Scotch Test Dummies with their review about the Glendronach 21yo on YouTube (Feb 2018) both of whom love this dram:

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.