Bought: World of Whisky, 2nd October 2019
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):
Bought: Master of Malt, 18th September 2018
85.18/100 – Whiskybase (average from 265 member votes)
It’s been over 3 years since I added a Kilchoman to my collection, which is something I feel quite guilty about. This Islay distillery, albeit the newest on the island (for now), produces fantastic single malt whisky. Even an ‘average’ Kilchoman is head-and-shoulders above most drams on the market. Unfortunately I was thinking about my wallet when the first 10-year-old appeared for Club members a few years ago. I should have bought it but it seemed very expensive for a 10yo, even at cask strength. But one shouldn’t have regrets with whisky because there are so many good experiences to be had from bottles you do manage to secure. One or two gems are bound to slip through the net.
I’ve had my eye on the ‘Sanaig’ ever since it was released in 2015. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it’s because of the purple packaging. What can I say – it’s my favourite colour! But, even so, I wouldn’t have bought the Sanaig if it wasn’t good whisky. The Glenlivet Captain’s Reserve has purple packaging but I’m in no hurry to buy a bottle, unless it’s reduced to £20 to reflect the quality of the whisky inside.
The name ‘Sanaig’ refers to a sea inlet near Kilchoman distillery and doesn’t appear to have any Gaelic meaning in English that I can find. Perhaps the purple rocks or seaweed of Sanaig bay influenced the choice of presentation. Overall the whisky inside is well liked with comments online including, “for a relatively young whisky the complexity of this spirit cannot be understated”, “good balance between bourbon a sherry cask and peaty whisky” and “if you prefer medium peated single malts with chocolate notes I can’t recommend anything higher than this”.
Tasting notes from Master of Malt:
Nose: Pineapple chunks and white grapes. Hints of fresh coffee carry the earthy, subtly spicy peat. Toffee cubes.
Palate: More light fruits (this time of the peach variety), with dark chocolate raisins and a whisper of red berries. Peat grows and grows, with a little black pepper too.
Finish: Quite long with coastal peat lasting.
Vin PF of No Nonsense Whisky gives his thoughts on the Kilchoman Sanaig on YouTube (July 2018):
Bought: World of Whisky, 28th June 2018
81.94/100 – Whiskybase (average from 20 member votes)
5/5 – Master of Malt (average from 5 member votes)
I do love a 1000ml bottle of whisky, especially if it contains good uisce beatha. You’ll often read online that Travel Retail used to do more 1 litre bottles but there are still some to be had and new ones being introduced. The ‘Eirigh Na Greine’ (meaning ‘Morning Sky’) by Bunnahabhain first appeared in airports in 2014 as a ‘limited edition’ and has only ever been available as 1 litre. The distillery say it’s been exclusively matured in French red wine casks, which makes it interesting. Just to be awkward Master of Malt say “a portion of this single malt was matured in red wine casks” and Whiskybase says “Italian & French red wine casks”. Confused? Personally I’ll stick with what Bunnahabhain say as they make the stuff.
Nearly 82/100 on Whiskybase is a very respectable mark, although the standard 12yo scores over 85/100. You get the impression that Bunnahabhain fans don’t like the distillery profile being messed around with. Comments online include “very well balanced, beautiful presence”, “lovely rich and complex nose, wine-cask dominated palate and a pleasant finish”, “smooth as silk” and “if you like Bunnahabhain, this one is a must try to take your senses to new places and evolve your knowledge of this fine distillery”.
What Master of Malt have to say:
Nose: Toasted sugar, vanilla, raspberries and a little honey.
Palate: Apricot, sea salt, black pepper, more wine cask-influence berry sweetness.
Finish: Smoky and quite long. A little bit spicy, too.
Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the ‘Eirigh Na Greine’ on YouTube (August 2015):
Bought: Waitrose, 17th February 2018
84.06/100 – Whiskybase (average from 390 member votes)
8/10 – Whisky Wednesday (video review below)
In September 2017 Ardbeg released the ‘An Oa’ named after a peninsular on the island of Islay. It’s the first bottle since 2009 to be added to the distillery’s core range, which include the Corryvreckan, Uigeadail and the ‘TEN’ 10yo. It may be yet another NAS (no age statement) from Ardbeg but at least it packs a punch at 46.6%. The An Oa is a vatting together of different cask types – ex-bourbon, Pedro Ximénez and virgin oak, so nothing especially unusual there. But you wouldn’t expect anything too experimental in the recipe when creating a regular release from the distillery.
It’s been 8 months since the launch of An Oa and reviews suggest it’s doing OK but just ‘OK’. Over 84/100 on Whiskybase is a very good mark but it’s lagging behind its core range family members. Their Whiskybase averages are:
- 88.5/100 – Corryvreckan (from 1735 votes)
- 89.19/100 – Uigeadail (from 2893 votes)
- 86.34/100 – ‘TEN’, 10-year-old (from 2922 votes)
Comments online about the An Oa include, “better than other standard editions right now but it is not great and rather average”, “truly epic whisky”, “unbalanced dram, PX and Virgin oak are fighting”, “I’ve been an Ardbeg lover for many years and this is a truly worthy addition to the family”.
The An Oa has its fans but at the same time there’s no guarantee that an existing Ardbeg fan will take to this youthful new upstart. On Master of Malt, where the An Oa scores 4/5 stars from 37 votes, the comments blow very hot and cold. Some people love it and others say it’s “barely drinkable”. It may cost more than the ‘TEN’ and score less than the 10yo in reviews but it’s still an Ardbeg so it will sell regardless of opinions.
Here’s Whisky Wednesday with their thoughts about the Ardbeg ‘An Oa’ on YouTube (Oct 2017), which they score an impressive 8/10:
Bought: Waitrose, 10th November 2017
85.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2014
85.76/100 – Whiskybase (from 44 member votes)
In 2017 Bunnahabhain decided it was time to update their packaging. Waitrose reduced the new 12yo to under £30 (as they often do) so I picked up a bottle. Not that I took much convincing because this is one of my favourite single malts regardless of price. Bunnahabhain clearly know what the market wants and the 12yo ticks all the boxes with good potency (46.3%), no chill filtration, natural colour, bags of flavour, great value (even at full price) and an age statement!
The use of the new term ‘Small Batch Distilled’ on the packaging got me wondering if the 12yo had changed in flavour but apparently it’s the same old 12yo inside the bottle. The use of ‘Small Batch’ is a vague term that stems from American whiskey production. Perhaps Bunnahabhain got the idea from their Islay neighbour Bowmore who released a NAS (non-age statement) in 2014 called ‘Small Batch’. It refers to small-scale production but there is no requirement to define what ‘small’ actually means. Small compared to what? In fact it’s so meaningless I’ve wasted too many words on it already! 🙂 Moving on….
One thing that’s clear from online reviews is that Bunna fans love this new release, even if it’s just the packaging that’s changed (although there will be subtle differences from batch to batch). Scoring nearly 86/100 on Whiskybase is a fantastic score with previous years tending to score in the range of 84-85/100. Comments online include “nice all man’s friend that is dangerously quaffable”, “fantastic complex whisky that compares with the very best”, “this is a wonderful whisky, rich sherry, oak, salty notes, and light hints of cherry” and “the best 12yr aged malt on the market”.
Tasting notes from ‘Master of Malt’:
Nose: Fresh, sweet. Seaweed, malt.
Palate: Soft, supple. Sherry, nutty. A little sweetness, malty, juicy sultana. Slightly coastal.
Finish: Sherried, mochaccino, herbal, balanced salty tang.
Here is Horst and Ben Luening with their thoughts about the new Bunna 12yo on YouTube (Jan 2018):
Bought: Tesco, 25th May 2017
90.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2018
80.45/100 – Whiskybase (average from 22 member votes)
The Bowmore No.1, new in 2017, replaces the ‘Small Batch’, which appeared in 2014. Both are NAS (no age statement) and matured in bourbon casks so you have to wonder if anyone will notice the difference? The No.1, unlike the Small Batch, is exclusively aged in first-fill bourbon casks, so maturation is quicker. I hope this doesn’t mean the No.1 is younger than the Small Batch, which was young enough!
The Small Batch on Whiskybase ended up with a score of 81.5/100 after 229 votes so the No.1 is lagging behind, although it’s early days yet. Comments on Whiskybase include, “reminds me rather of a strongly diluted mixture of (too) young Laphroaig and Caol Ila” and “the sweet ashes are nothing special but nice. For me this has more than a few mistakes”. At least someone on Amazon says, “wonderful nose you can’t go wrong with Bowmore”, but another comment adds, “spend the extra for the 12yr old. You won’t regret it.” Or get the 9yo if you’re on a budget and prefer a sherry influence instead of bourbon.
Tasting notes from Master of Malt:
Nose: Nutella on brown bread, sea salt and a hint of lemon zest.
Palate: Vanilla notes are up front and sweet (though earthy vanilla pod does appear after a minute). Plenty of coastal peat smoke.
Finish: Lingering smokiness.
Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts on YouTube about the Bowmore No.1 (May 2017):
Bought: Amazon, 1st December 2016
83.14/100 – Whiskybase (average from 156 member votes)
81/100 – Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com)
Independent bottlers have been happily putting sub-10yo age statements on bottles for years but it’s not something you commonly see from distilleries. As aged stock started to run out we’ve seen more and more NAS (non-age statement) bottles creeping onto the market from distilleries, which have usually been met with disdain and disgust from the whisky drinking community. Personally I don’t see what’s wrong with putting 9yo, or 8yo, or even 5yo on a bottle, and clearly Bowmore agree with me. Released in 2016, the Bowmore 9-year-old, matured in sherry casks, comes in under 10-years-old but has been applauded for its honesty. Well done Bowmore!
Scoring over 83/100 on Whiskybase is a very good mark. Comments include “I do like the young age which gives it some more edges and spices in comparison to the 15yo Darkest” and “a very respectable dram that I look forward to returning to. It’s not going to set the world on fire, but I would certainly consider recommending it to someone looking to try a sherry-peat combination without breaking the bank”.
Tasting notes from whisky expert Mark Durmel:
Nose: Sherried nose with all kinds of fruit like oranges, figs and nuts. Some burnt coffee beans and wet newspaper. Soft peat. Not very outspoken in my opinion. Kind of docile.
Taste: The body is quite alright and on the palate it turns quite maritime as well. A lot of peat and salt precede the mildly drying wood and sweet fruit. The sherry cask – very prominent on the nose – does not stand a chance on the palate. I get some tobacco and cloves, but this young malt has little else on offer.
Finish: Medium long finish, that leaves the mouth dry.
81/100 maybe a low mark from Ralfy (his 25 minute You Tube review here) but at least he considers it worthy of a video. Bang for buck, this Bowmore certainly seems like a winner.
Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the Bowmore 9yo (Feb 2017):
Bought: SMWS, 6th May 2016
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.”
Bought: Ardbeg Shop, 26th March 2017
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):
Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 26th October 2016
87.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2016
86.9/100 – Whiskybase (from 609 member votes)
15,000 bottles of the Ardbeg ‘Galileo’ were released in June 2012 to make the distillery lots of money. Oh, and to commemorate some of the whisky going into space in 2011 for some zero gravity maturation. Reports of people floating about after drinking the Galileo have been greatly exaggerated.
Although 87.5/100 in the Whisky Bible classifies the Galileo as “very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying” it’s quite a low score from Jim Murray for an Ardbeg. He normally scores distillery bottlings over 90/100 with the more pocket-friendly 10yo getting 97/100 and the Uigeadail a staggering 97.5/100.
Having been matured in ex-marsala and ex-bourbon casks a few reviewers have been caught out by the sweetness in a negative way but they’re in the minority. Nearly 87/100 on Whiskybase is a fantastic score with comments of “quite stunning”, “sweet Ardbeg, how nice, how unexpected!! A real stunner!” and “a good whisky, no doubt about this. At current prices, I would skip this one and fetch an Uigeadail instead.” Jim Murray would agree with that!
One reviewer concludes with “too bad that this has become one of those collectors’ items that generally stay closed forever.” Yes, you’ve got me there! I’d like to think I’ll drink the Galileo one day but if prices keep rising it’s very easy to move the bottle from my ‘collection’ to my ‘investment’ shelf. But if Donald Trump starts launching nuclear missiles I’ll drink the Galileo in a pint glass and hope it floats me off to Mars to avoid the fallout!
Here’s Mark Dermul on You Tube with his thoughts on the Ardbeg Galileo (Sept 2012):