Tag Archives: Marks & Spencer

Paul John ‘Brilliance’

Bought: Marks & Spencer, 14th November 2017

94/100 – Whisky Bible 2018
88/100 – Whisky Wise (video review below)
81.6/100 – Whiskybase (average from 94 member votes)

When I started collecting in 2013 the only whisky available in the UK from India was from the Amrut distillery. John Distillery started life in Goa, India in 1992 and their ‘Paul John’ brand was first launched in London in October 2012. It took a few years before it crept into the majority of online British shops but it now seems to be here to stay. I’ve wanted an example from ‘Paul John’ for several years so I’m delighted to finally add the ‘Brilliance’ to my collection.

Brilliance is a non-peated, non chill-filtered single malt and Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible, absolutely loves it. He scores his first sample of Brilliance 94.5/100 but batch 3, bottled July 2016 scores an equally fantastic 94/100. My example is also batch 3 but bottled in October 2016. 94/100 classifies the Brilliance as a ‘superstar whisky that gives us all a reason to live’. Mr Murray says about the taste, “this was a malt designed to get the most out of the barley and here the juices arrive in force and early on. Much less copper than the first bottling, showing this relatively new distillery is moving on, but the spices and light mocha make a handsome contribution.” He summaries with, “it is impossible not to be impressed. Complexity is the key word here. And though it has moved on a little – mainly through tannin – from its earlier rendition, the layering and structure remains superb. The tail needs a little attention, but I’m being ultra-strict: this is excellent whisky and make no mistake.”

81.6/100 in Whiskybase is a very good score where comments include “a totally underrated whisky in my opinion. I like it a lot”, “Initially surprising soft, but soon followed by a real punch, with a lingering aftertaste. A real eye opener.”

Here’s Jason of Whisky Wise with his thoughts about the Paul John ‘Brilliance’ on YouTube (July 2017):


Balblair 2003

Bought: Marks & Spencer, 29th July 2015

88.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
80.38/100 – Whiskybase (average from 41 member votes)

I’ve been after a distillery release from Balblair for over 2 years, partially because they’ve been getting good reviews but mostly because I love the bottle shape! It’s certainly very cute. The first Whisky Bible I got by Jim Murray was the 2013 edition and the reviewed Balblair year-statements kicked off with 1965, which scored 96.5/100. Then followed 1969 – 94.5/100, 1975 – 94.5/100, 1978 – 94/100, right up to the newest 2001 release which scored 90.5/100. Clearly this distillery had been doing good things and for many decades!

My 2003 release scores a healthy 88.5/100 in the Whisky Bible 2015, which classifies it as “very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying”. Jim Murray says of the taste “the delivery is an absolute treat, churning out a succession of confident barley themes in classic Balblair style, from eyewateringly salivating and rich to crisp and precise. The sugars are crunchy and follow a crispy route.” The author concludes with “so beautiful thanks to its understated complexity and honesty.”

A score in the low 80s on Whiskybase might not seem very high but all those that write a review are complimentary, including “Balblair 2003 is targeting an all-round audience with its sweet and spicy flavours”, “good nose, palate and finish. Youthful, fresh and crisp” and “classic Balblair brilliance.” One negative said it would be better if left in the barrel for longer but that would make it a completely different whisky, like one of the older Balblairs. That’s next on the shopping list!

Balblair 2003 70cl

Elijah Craig 12-year-old

Bought – Marks & Spencer, 16th September 2014

79/100 – Whisky Bible 2014
91/100 – RalfyElijah Craig 12yo – YouTube (October 2010)
– In Ian Buxton’s book “101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die”

You might be wondering why I have two bottles in the picture below. So am I. Marks & Spencer were selling it for £5 less than anywhere else, even online. When I bought a bottle they gave me a ‘£5 Off’ voucher if I spent £25 or more so I got another bottle, this time £10 less than anywhere else. 2015 was meant to be my bourbon year but it looks like I’ve started early. Perhaps a lucky friend or relative will be getting my second bottle for Christmas.

I need to get the Whisky Bible 2011, which will include bourbons the author (Jim Murray) tried in 2010 when Ralfy also reviewed the Elijah Craig. In 1996, the distillery that produce Elijah Craig was mostly destroyed in a fire. The 12yo reviewed in the 2009 bible gets 86/100 but the author is suspicious that this is old stock, rather than an example of post-fire production. By 2014 Jim Murray knows the bourbon is from the new distillery and he’s not exactly complimentary. I’d be interested to know what Ralfy would think if it now.

The good news is that the majority of recent reviews for this bourbon on ‘Master of Malt’ are 5/5 stars. I adore the bottle shape, and the 47% is a good strength to give the drink some depth. I also see that the last reviewer for this bourbon on Whiskybase gives it 93/100. Perhaps I’ll be keeping that second bottle after all!

Update (22nd Dec 2014). I’ve tried this bourbon over several months, with various amounts of water. My conclusion is, add something! Coke, ginger ale, whatever. I think the Whisky Bible mark of 79/100 is generous. There’s no way of hiding the ‘burnt’ element of this spirit without a stronger, sweet mixer, with good masking skills. I wish I’d had a chance to experience the old version of Elijah Craig because this version is, sadly, terrible. If you get a bottle, I’d recommend drinking it at the end of the night when better drink has numbed your taste buds!

Elijah Craig 12yo 70cl

Glenfarclas 2003

Bought – Marks & Spencer, 22nd August 2014

84/100 – Whiskybase (average from 3 member votes)
87/100 – Ralfy, of http://www.ralfy.com
Review: – Ralfy – Glenfarclas 2003 – YouTube (December 2013)

This Glenfarclas 2003 is 43% and not to be confused with the 46% version being sold exclusively at ‘The Whisky Shop’. Initially I thought it was the same but it seems that Glenfarclas provide Marks & Spencer with a different, less alcoholic version. They probably don’t want their customers swaying uncontrollably down the High Street. Nevertheless, Ralfy in his video review says this 43% behaves more like 46%. So much for watering it down! The Whisky Bible provides a review for ‘The Whisky Shop’ version, giving it 83/100 but no mention of the M&S bottle. Thankfully other reviews are available online and 84/100 on Whiskybase is a very good mark. My bottle cost £35 from M&S but the version at ‘The Whisky Shop’ costs …. brace yourself … £62.99! Don’t all faint at once.

When Ralfy first opened his bottle he says it tasted “raw, aggressive and unsettled”. He then poured out some of the whisky into a sample bottle to give the remaining whisky a change to breath, which apparently resulted in a big improvement. All in all he is very impressed with this Glenfarclas. Always good to hear having spent money on it!

One thing Ralfy mentions, and I’ve noticed about Glenfarclas, is their value for money when it comes to older bottlings. For example, today’s prices for a 21-year-old bottle from the following distilleries would cost:

  • £118 – Highland Park
  • £108 – Glenfiddich
  • £93 – Glenlivet
  • £85.50 – Old Pulteney
  • £70 – Glenfarclas

These are the best prices I found using Whiskymarketplace, with the Glenfarclas 21-year-old available for £70 from ‘The Whisky Shop Dufftown’. At the same time ‘The Whisky Shop’ is selling the 21yo bottle for £115. £45 more! It goes to show that it pays to shop around.

Glenfarclas 2003 70cl

Writers Tears

Bought – Marks & Spencer, 3rd June, 2014

93/100 – Whisky Bible 2014
86/100 – RalfyWriters Tears – YouTube (Jan 2015)

I received a top-tip on the WhiskyWhiskyWhisky forum that this Irish pot still whiskey was reduced to £25 at Marks & Spencer. Another on my wishlist so it was time to go out and get it.

If there was a prize for the most words written by Jim Murray about a whisky then Writers Tears must be a close winner. In the Whisky Bible 2014 it gets nearly half a page! You have to wonder if Jim thought that a whiskey named in the memory of writers demanded the use of more writing!

93/100 classes this whiskey as “brilliant!” Jim Murray says of the taste “works beautifully well” and scores this element 24/25 (so effectively 96/100!). I also found 3 ratings on the whisky review site ‘Whisky Connosr” giving two scores of 85/100 and one of 89/100 so it’s not just Mr Murray that loves this dram. It seems it’s the blend of pure Pot Still with single malt that’s got everyone’s taste buds dancing. Clearly something the makers of Writers Tears have got very, very right.

Writers Tears Whiskey 70cl

The Spice Tree

Bought – Marks & Spencer, 4th September 2013

95.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2013
91/100 – Affordable Whisky – His review on YouTube (September 2012)
88/100 – RalfyHis review on YouTube (November 2014)

I’d heard about Compass Box and how they made interesting and excellent blends. What I hadn’t expected was to find a bottle of theirs in my local Marks & Spencer. The Whisky Bible mentioned that Deanston did a version of their 12yo for M&S that was 10 points better than their normal 12yo. Talk about making sure the big supermarket gets the best quality stuff! Unfortunately it seems, according to the M&S website, that Deanston is no longer in stock. Oh well, never mind, because ‘The Spice Tree’ was an excellent, and rather different alternative. As you can see from the picture below some tasting has been going on and it’s certainly a very yummy blend. My tasting ability hasn’t matured to the stage that I detected all the complexities but I did enjoy that touch of spice that gives it its name. It’s certainly one to revisit, and revisit, and revisit. 🙂

The Spice Tree 70cl