Bought: Sainsbury’s, 23rd October 2019
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):
Bought: World of Whisky, 1st November 2018
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.
Bought: Online auction, 8th October 2018
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.
Bought: Amazon, 6th April 2018
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:
Bought: Cadenhead, 5th December 2017
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.
Posted in Old Pulteney
Tagged 11yo, 2006, 55.8%, 70cl, Cadenhead, Cadenhead Shop, Cask Strength, Highland, Highlands, Old Pulteney, Single Malt, Small Batch
Bought: Co-op Foods, 9th November 2017
The Co-operative chain of shops has been selling a 12-year-old Highland single malt for many years. Although the source distillery is a mystery there are some clues that point firmly at Dalmore. A whisky forum discussion in 2012 said the packaging mentions ‘The Black Isle’, which is synonymous with Dalmore. It was also said that Richard Patterson, who is the master blender for Whyte & Mackay, who own Dalmore, blended the dram. Another clue is the use of lots of colorant. Love it or hate it, Dalmore use a lot of E150.
In 2016 into 2017 the packaging for the Co-op 12yo changed but it still mentions ‘The Black Isle’, although strictly speaking this could also apply to the Glen Ord and Teaninich distilleries. There’s no mention of Richard Patterson but the colouring still screams ‘Dalmore’ (favourite dram of Oompa Loompas to maintain their complexion). It’s not going to be the same as the Dalmore 12yo, which is part-finished in 30-year-old Gonzalez Byass Matusalem oloroso sherry casks, but at half the price the Co-op 12yo is worth seeking out.
For an online review in 2015 Cambridge Wine Blogger says, “a golden, mahogany toffee colour, it has a complex nose of citrus, sandalwood and roasted spices; cooked mixed fruit, pastry shop, sweet vanilla and complex dark sherry flavours. Warming, assertive and persistent.” And concludes with, “good value and very good.”
Here’s Tropical Scot with his review of the Co-op Highland 12-year-old on YouTube (Jan 2017):
Bought: Online Auction, 5th October 2017
85.65/100 – Whiskybase (from 8 member votes)
78/100 – Malt Maniacs (from 4 maniac votes)
This 40% Glen Ord 12yo was introduced in the mid 1990s (according to Malt Maniacs) and superseded in c.2005 by a square bottle version at a more potent 43%. I’ve wanted this distillery bottling of Glen Ord for a while because it was a classic of its day. There is certainly plenty of it about because it regularly appears in UK auctions where bottles make a modest £30-£60. The square bottle arguably contains better whisky than the earlier version from the 1990s but I was delighted to win this 100cl 40% for £42. After auction costs £55 doesn’t seem much for a whisky discontinued over 10 years ago and possibly bottled over 20 years ago. The whisky inside could have been distilled in the 1980s.
Scoring over 85/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score, albeit only from 8 member votes. Someone leaves the comment, “quite a good and complex dram for its age. A good bottling from the past.” The 70cl version listed on Whiskybase was bottled in 2003 and scores a more modest 81/100 from 64 votes. Comments include “much better than I was expecting, not exciting or anything but easy to drink”, “just ok, certainly not offensive and even positively cordial”, and “this one goes excellent with a good coffee, a lovely malt from a nice distillery”.
Serge Valentin, one of the Malt Maniacs, scores the Glen Ord 12yo 76/100 with the comment “the new one in the rectangular bottle is much better, but this old version is rather amiable, after all”. The picture of his bottle shows it came with a square box, which is probably the early presentation from the mid 1990s. I suspect my 100cl with the round tube is from 2000+. Serge Valentin’s review can be found here.
Here’s Ben of ‘A Dram A Day’ with a history of the Glen Ord distillery and his thoughts on the square bottle of the 12yo:
Bought: Aberdeen Whisky Shop, 14th September 2017
82/100 – Whisky Bible 2018
82.53/100 – Whiskybase (from 242 member votes)
87/100 – Ralfy (his video review below)
The Hielan’ (meaning ‘highland’) is the Glendronach distillery’s entry-level malt with a youthful age of 8 years. It’s still possible to find it for under £30 but its price is creeping up. I bought a miniature in a ‘tri’ pack along with the 12yo and 18yo. I’ll probably regret not getting the 70cl when I taste it because it sounds delicious, and the rejuvenated Glendronach is one of my favourite distilleries.
The Hielan’ gets a very similar mark in both the Whisky Bible and on Whiskybase. The Bible author Jim Murray says, “intense malt. But doesn’t quite feel as happy with the oil on show as it might”. 82/100 classifies the Hielan’ as “good whisky worth trying”. Mr Murray scores the 12yo ‘Original’ 86.5/100.
82.5/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score with comments of “simple GlenDronach, not very interesting. In this price category the 12 ‘Original’ is a better choice.” It’s a fair point because there isn’t a big enough price difference between the 8yo and 12yo Glendronach in most shops. The 12yo scores 83.8/100 on Whiskybase but Ralfy (YouTube video below) gives 87/100 to both the 8yo Hielan’ and 12yo ‘Original’. Clearly there’s not much in it.
Tasting notes from Master of Malt:
Nose: Honey’d malt, vanilla fudge and citrus peels. Slightly chocolate-y raisin notes and a little cinnamon.
Palate: More spice comes through on the palate, but the vanilla-rich buttery elements remain up front. Freshly baked biscuits topped with almonds and plump sultanas.
Finish: Quite long, with Sherried fruit and ginger lasting.
Ralfy’s review on YouTube (August 2017):
Bought: Auriol Wines, 1st September 2017
83.79/100 – Whiskybase (average from 906 member votes)
87/100 – Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com)
4/5 – Master of Malt (from 54 reviews)
The fact that the Glendronach 12yo has over 900 votes on Whiskybase is testament to how loved this dram is by whisky enthusiasts. Comments include “definitely worth recommending for those looking for a good introduction into the intense flavors of red fruits” and “this malt is a keeper of consistently high quality”. It may only be 12 years old and 43% but the maturation in both Pedro Ximénez & Oloroso casks bestows ‘sherry bomb’ qualities, all for a very reasonable price.
Scoring 4/5 on Master of Malt is very good and comments from 2017 include, “one of the best non cask-strength sherry casks I’ve ever had”, “smoother than Macallan 12 but with similar notes” and “good dram for the uninitiated to try”.
My exact bottle with code ‘LK11116’ isn’t on Whiskybase yet but I’ll add the link when it appears. The ‘LK’ part suggests it was bottled in 2016, which means it was distilled after Glendronach reopened in 2001. For those of you with Jim Murray’s ‘Whisky Bible 2018’ his review of the Glendronach 12yo ‘Original’ was added in 2011 and refers to a bottle distilled before Glendronach closed in 1995. Hence why I haven’t included his score. If he updates his review I’ll be sure to come back and add his comments.
Tasting notes from Master of Malt:
Nose: Rich cereals, struck match, raisin, cinnamon, caramelised sugar. Opens with some sweeter PX and lots of delicious raw ginger before becoming creamier with hazelnuts.
Palate: Fruits, peels, buttery. Pain au chocolat, a little marmalade on toast before becoming firmer and nuttier with spiced raisins.
Finish: Smoky toffee and nut brittle.
Here’s Ralfy on YouTube with his review of the Glendronach 12yo (June 2016):
Bought: Online Auction, 10th August 2017
81.33/100 – Whiskybase (average from 3 member votes)
Rugby – something Scotland used to be good at. It’s sad that there are young Scottish adults walking the earth today that weren’t born when Scotland was a proud rugby country. Scotland haven’t won the Nations Championship since 1999, the year before Italy were asked to join to make it the ‘6 Nations Championship’ that we have today. Perhaps the Scots are allergic to Italians? The ‘Grand Slam’ is where a team manages to win the championship by beating all the other teams. The last time Scotland achieved this was in 1990, finishing on the 17th March with a 13-7 win against England at Murrayfield in Edinburgh. I watched it on TV and enjoyed every minute of it, except the England try, which was definitely offside!
After the dust had settled in 1990 Glenmorangie decided to release a commemorative version of their standard 10yo. On the reverse label it includes the signatures of the victorious Scottish team. Scoring just over 81/100 on Whiskybase is what you’d expect for a 10-year-old Glenmorangie from that period. Personally I’d rate it higher at about 85/100 but then I am a big fan of the Glenmorangie 10yo from the early to mid 90s, even though it’s 40% rather than the 43% of the modern incarnation.
I rarely give investment tips but here’s one for the ‘Grand Slam Dram’. As far as I can tell the bottle wasn’t originally sold with any packaging. The majority of bottles sold at auction come without any and typically make about £80. I noticed that some cunning person had paired their ‘Grand Slam Dram’ bottle with a tube from roughly the right period, which sold for £160. It goes to show that people are prepared to pay extra for packaging (weird – I know!). I bought my bottle for £80 and picked up an empty tin from the early 1990s from Ebay for £5. I can’t guarantee I’ll double my money if I ever sell it because auctions can be fickle but I’ll definitely make a profit on the tin.
Here’s a 15-minute documentary from 2010 to mark 20 years since the final Grand Slam match between Scotland and England, Murrayfield, 17th March 1990: