Tag Archives: Master of Malt

Highland Park ‘Valknut’

Bought: Master of Malt, 14th August 2019

Ratings:

85/100 – Whiskybase (average from 238 member votes)

The ‘Valknut’ release of 2018 is the second in Highland Park’s ‘Viking Legend’ series, which started with ‘Valkyrie’ in 2017 and finished with the third release ‘Valfather’ in 2019. If you have a nut allergy, don’t panic! The Valknut does not contain nuts and I haven’t seen any reference to nuts in the tasting notes. The word ‘Valknut’ translates as ‘knot of those slain in battle’ and refers to a symbol of three inter-linked triangles, which represent the transition from earthly life to heavenly life.

If you’re a fan of German football you might recognise the Valknut symbol. The 3 inter-linked triangles inspired the logo used by the German Football Association (DFB) since 1991. Archaeology has found the symbol on a variety of objects used by the ancient Germanic peoples. The symbol has a strong connection with Odin, a prominent god of Northern Europe as recorded during Roman occupation over 2000 years ago. Germany, Scandinavia, Orkney – we’re all connected. If you start reading up on it you’ll be needing a drop of whisky to keep you going!

Highland Park say about the Valknut “created using a higher proportion of our local peated malt and matured in a combination of sherry seasoned European and American oak casks and ex-bourbon casks.” It’s this extra peat that’s caught the attention of a lot of the drinkers, in a favourable way. Scoring 85/100 on Whiskybase is a very good mark, which nudges it ahead of its two ‘Legend’ brothers, the Valkyrie (83.7/100) and Valfather (84.3/100). Comments online for the Valknut include “good balance. Seaweeds and peach go hand in hand. This is very pleasant and quaffable”, “really nice balance and a lot of taste which makes this a dram that I can keep pouring all evening without boring me” and “good approachable Highland Park, which even though it is a NAS, shows fair complexity and depth”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Warming peat smoke rises, paired with fresh vanilla, thyme honey and sandalwood.

Palate: Toasted barley and fennel seed, with a kick of cinnamon underneath.

Finish: Flamed orange peel, a very light touch of BBQ char, gingerbread and nutmeg.

Here’s Vin PF of ‘No Nonsense Whisky’ with his thoughts about the Valknut on YouTube (Dec 2018):

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):

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):

Kilchoman ‘Sanaig’

Bought: Master of Malt, 18th September 2018

Ratings:
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):

Bladnoch ‘Samsara’ 200th Anniversary

Bought: Master of Malt, 4th September 2017

Ratings:
82.7/100 – Whiskybase (average from 9 member votes)

Bladnoch distillery celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2017 and the new owner (David Prior) decided to release 3 commemorative bottles, the Samsara (NAS), Adela 15yo and Talia 25yo. Unfortunately they weren’t new because they’d already been released in 2016. The only clear difference I can see is that the re-release in 2017 now had “Celebrating 200 years” at the bottom of the bottle label. I gave my wife a food blender for our 24th wedding anniversary last year and I gave her the same blender this year with “happy 25th anniversary!” on it. I’m now single. I jest of course. 🙂

It was mostly this lazy attempt to celebrate Bladnoch’s 200th birthday that caused me to delay getting the Samsara. Not that it was likely to sell out because demand for the distillery seems quite low. Although the Samsara is NAS (non-age statement) it’s said to be over 8-years-old as the last spirit distilled at the distillery was in 2008. The 2016 release scored 79/100 on Whiskybase from 30 member votes so 82.7/100 for the 2017 is a clear improvement. Although both are 46.7% (a good strength) the 2017 version is matured in Californian red wine and bourbon casks. Maturation isn’t mentioned for the 2016 edition, so perhaps there’s a difference there. If nothing else the Samsara 2017 could have 9-year-old whisky as a base instead of the 8-year-old for the 2016 release.

So why did I get the Samsara? Having bought bottles to celebrate 200 years of Lagavulin and Laphroaig it didn’t seem right not to support Bladnoch and its ‘rebirth’ (the meaning of the word ‘Samsara’). Not only that but reviews have improved for the Samsara and for just over £60 this 8yo+ comes in a beautiful decanter-style bottle and sturdy display box. Both reviews left on Master of Malt consider the Samsara to be good value for money although I notice the price has increased to over £70. Tut tut!

Tasting notes from Bladnoch:

Nose: Quite concentrated, fruit compote, with plums, vanilla and orange blossom.
Palate: A sweet winey start, then drying slightly before more plums and vanilla flavours, some citrus and a malty core. Nicely structured.
Finish: Mellow and winey with a spicy, lingering tail.

Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts on YouTube (July 2017):

Linkwood 1995 21-year-old (Signatory)

Bought: Master of Malt, 2nd August 2017

Ratings:
5/5 – Amazon (from one review)
84.67/100 – Whiskybase (average from 3 member votes)

This is my 17th example from the Linkwood distillery but my first to be bottled by Signatory. Released in 2017 it’s a combination of two casks numbered 5943 and 5944. Although it’s not stated, the colour suggests ex-bourbon casks and probably refill rather than first-fill. Nearly 85/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score. There are two almost identical 21yo releases by Signatory listed on Whiskybase, one from 2017 (casks 5940 & 5941) and another from 2016 (casks 5938 & 5939). They score 85/100 (1 vote) and 84.25/100 (6 votes) respectively, which are very good marks.

Ralfy on YouTube recently reviewed his first ever Linkwood in 8 years and 680 videos. He said that some people think that Linkwood is more for blends but he disagrees with that and so do I. Ralfy hits the nail on the head when he says that the fans of Linkwood are happy that the owners, Diageo, haven’t presented it as part of their distillery selection. It’s kept Linkwood’s profile low, which has allowed more independent bottlers to buy casks and kept prices down. This 21yo cost me £46, which is a fantastic price for the age. Imagine what it would be for a 21-year-old Lagavulin or Talisker? I never thought I’d see myself say this but – thank you Diageo!

Ratings online for my new Linkwood are few and far between but one person on Amazon gives it 5/5 stars and comments, “it is one to enjoy. I like it very much and think the money makes it a great deal!”

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Black tea and digestive biscuits. Walnuts and dates with a touch of dried hay.
Palate: Sugared peels, honey and a hearty kick of nutmeg.
Finish: Lingering dried flower fragrance.

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.

Loch Lomond Single Grain (2016-)

Bought: Master of Malt, 2nd August 2017

Ratings:
93/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
78.52/100 – Whiskybase (average from 33 member votes)

It seems the only reason this single grain from the Loch Lomond distillery isn’t single malt is because of the continuous distillation process, which is a ‘single grain’ thing. It’s exclusively made from malted barley, which ticks the single malt box. According to a Whiskybase member who visited the distillery, “it has aged for around 4-5 years in first fill bourbon casks (around 20 per cent of each batch) and the remaining 80 per cent come from refill bourbon casks.” On the back of the tube it says “soft fruits and creamy vanilla with a hint of smoke and peat.” Peat as well! Blimey! And at 46% this is far from being a typical budget single grain.

Scoring 78.5/100 on Whiskybase is the sort of score I’d expect to see for a good, if a bit young, single malt. How appropriate considering that’s what this Loch Lomond nearly is. Comments online include “nice, easy drinking, every day dram”, “a real surprise, never had such a malted grain style whisky before and to be honest – I like it” and “sweet & spicy and easy-drinking with an interesting malty twist”. No mention of peat though.

93/100 in the Whisky Bible means that Jim Murray thinks the Loch Lomond Single Grain is “brilliant”! He says about the taste, “the sugars on the nose are indicative of a sweet grain, for the delivery centres around the maple syrup lead. The oak is something like most anchors at work: barely visible to invisible”. He summaries with, “elegant grain; keeps the sweetness controlled”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Plenty of sweet, fruity grain character here. Citrus peels, icing sugar, a little bit of grassiness.
Palate: Pineapple starts to develop on the palate, with a touch or two of oak spice keeping it from becoming overly sweet.
Finish: Continued fruity freshness.

Puni Nova 3-year-old – Italian Single Malt

Bought: Master of Malt, 8th September 2016

Ratings:
76.4/100 – Whiskybase (average from 7 member votes)

Puni became the first Italian whisky distillery when building started in 2010. It took 2 years for the distillation plant to be finished and in the autumn of 2012 Puni opened a visitors centre. I can just imagine the queues! I wasn’t aware of the existence of Puni until I spotted a bottle of their 2-year-old malt spirit (Puni Alba) in a UK auction last year. The Whisky Bible rated it 82/100 but it had a lowly 75/100 on Whiskybase. Not that ‘malt spirit’ is very easy to judge. But in 2015 Puni were able to release their first legal single malt and the Alba 3yo appeared, winning a ‘silver outstanding’ at the ‘International Wine and Spirits’ competition. Whatever that means. It sounds good anyway.

In 2016 Puni are selling two varieties of whisky, the Alba and Nova, both aged for 3 years. The Alba is matured in Marsala and Islay casks with “the distinctive smoky character of the Scottish island” and the Nova is matured in American and European oak. Even though I’m an Islay fan, and the Alba scores slightly higher than the Nova on Whiskybase, I decided to go for the Nova because I sometimes like to rebel against myself. In fairness to the Nova, according to the Puni website it’s had as many awards as the Alba but also “best Italian Single Malt” in the World Whisky Awards 2016. Hmmm…except Puni is the only single malt distillery in Italy so the Nova only had to beat the Alba. It was a 2-horse race and the one with Islay body odour had a slight limp that day.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Fragrant citrus sorbet with touches of caramel, wheat, apple and vanilla.
Palate: Slightly floral and punchy with yellow pear skin and a hint of fruity rye, dried grass and pink peppercorns (could be the rye or the Limousin there).
Finish: Light, clean, cereal with subtle cinnamon and cedar.

The following video is by ‘The Good Dram Show’ on You Tube tasting the Nova (which is incorrectly labelled as the ‘Alba’). He’s very complimentary and summarises by saying the Puni distillery is producing some world-class whisky and one to watch for the future:

puni-nova-3yo-70cl

Big Peat – 20cl

Bought: Master of Malt, 3rd August 2016

Ratings:
96/100 – Whisky Bible 2011
8.5/100 – Jo from Whisky Wednesday (video below)
84.83/100 – Whiskybase (average from 25 member votes)

Big Peat first appeared in the Whisky Bible in 2011 with a fantastic score of 96/100. In the latest edition batch 30 scores 92/100 and batch 31 scores 90.5/100, which means quality has slipped a little (according to the author) but not by much. Unfortunately my 20cl bottle doesn’t have a batch number on it but according to Whiskybase this quarter bottle first appeared in 2009. I’m hoping my version dates back to that time and the epic 96/100. The author concludes with “had the Caol Ila been reduces slightly, and with it the oils, this might well have been World Whisky of the Year”. Praise indeed.

Big Peat is a vatting together of Islay single malts. Douglas Laing who make Big Peat describe it as “Caol Ila spirit bringing sweetness, Bowmore the perfect balance, Ardbeg the medicinal, earthy quality and Port Ellen, a degree of elegance”. But as the price of Port Ellen rises you have to think there’s very little going into the Big Peat mix. I bet I won’t be able to identify it. Nevertheless Big Peat is a classic of its time and a dram that every whisky enthusiast should try eventually.

20cl tasting notes provided on Whiskybase:

Nose: Earthy, mossy and briney. That smoked kipper quality. Some ripe fruits lurk.
Taste: The smoke coats and fills the mouth. A decent oak roasted salmon oiliness. Leaves a little salt as well.
Finish: Long with plenty of smoke and sweet honey.

Here’s Jo from Whisky Wednesday with his review on You Tube (June 2015):

Big Peat NAS 20cl