Bought: Waitrose, 18th October 2017
87.52/100 – Whiskybase (from 23 member votes)
Aberlour distillery first introduced the A’bunadh (meaning ‘the origin’) back in 1997 so 2017 marked 20 years of this delectable dram. Each batch is cask strength at around 60% and is a single malt blended from barrels aged between 5 and 25 years. From the batches I’ve tried over the years I’ve never detected young whisky in the mix in a negative way. Whoever blends the A’bunadh at Aberlour distillery certainly knows how to combine young and old spirit for best effect. The A’bunadh is exclusively matured in Spanish oak from Oloroso sherry butts and is bottled without being chill filtered or having additional colouring. This is natural sherried Speyside single malt at its very best.
All whisky collectors have regrets and one of mine is deciding not to buy an A’bunadh batch 28 or 29 in 2014. A shop in Holland I was using had them for €89. It seemed too expensive at the time but bottles are now fetching over £120 at auctions today. The earliest batch I’ve tried is No.45 and I saved a 10cl sample of it for posterity. I feel like I’ve missed out on the evolution of the A’bunadh. But according to reviews it’s not as if the earlier batches were better than the most recent releases. The whole point behind the A’bunadh was to replicate an old bottle of Aberlour from 1898, which was discovered at the distillery in 1975. So batch 1 should in theory be very similar in taste and quality to batch 60. But everyone will have their favourite and specific tasting notes vary from batch to batch.
Scoring over 87/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score but very typical for an A’bunadh. If you have batch 59, and you enjoy good sherry-bomb malt, you wont be disappointed!
Tasting notes from Master of Malt:
Nose: Dark chocolate and raisins, with underlying vanilla-rich malt persisting.
Palate: Coffee and walnut cake, blackcurrant squash, mince pie crust and ground clove.
Finish: Beeswax and honey, damson jam, black pepper, nutmeg and digestive biscuits.
Bought: Online Auction, 5th October 2017
85/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)
72/100 – Malt Maniacs (for 70cl 1993 version)
Kinclaith wasn’t a distillery in its own right as it was constructed in the grounds of the Strathclyde grain distillery in Glasgow, which makes it a Lowland whisky. Founded in 1957 Kinclaith was closed in 1975 and subsequently demolished. In its short 18-year life Kinclaith was used for blending (primarily in Long John) and never officially sold as single malt. Whiskybase only list 5 independent bottlers releasing Kinclaith as a single malt with Cadenhead starting in 1985 with a 20-year-old. If you have a spare €2,000 you can buy this bottle from a shop in Germany. Hmmm, perhaps not!
Whiskybase list the last independent bottling of Kinclaith by ‘The Whisky Talker’ in 2010, some 7 years ago. That’s hardly surprising since it’s over 40 years since Kinclaith ceased to be. Are there any casks left unopened I wonder? My 5cl by Gordon & MacPhail (G&M) was probably bottled in 1993 (as per the 70cl, making it 25/26yo) but there isn’t a code confirming this on the back of the bottle’s label. There was also a 70cl G&M bottle released in 1991. I’ve wanted a miniature Kinclaith by G&M for years but I’ve never see one with a good neck level. My bottle (pictured below) has liquid up to the shoulders, which is as good as it gets. At least it’s enough to provide a taste of this rare Lowland gem.
Tasting notes and comment from Whiskybase (translated from German):
Nose: Light oak, some water mint, hair spray, old copper coins, dried, tropical fruits (pineapple, papaya, apricot), Werther’s original, Grand Marnier, cotton candy and some burnt caramel. With time and air, the whiskey opens up and becomes more fruity and finer.
Taste: Sweetish and slightly creamy with lots of malt and light vanilla. In addition there are bright fruits and some lemon. Then becoming pepperier. Light tannins, a bit orange bitter and a hint of bitters. At the end, the bitter oak occupies the entire mouth.
Finish: Medium in the middle, woody, slightly bitter and with a fine malty sweetness. In between, the tropical fruits flash out of the nose. At the end some milk coffee.
Comments: Old-school Malt! I would have thought the Lowlander to be much easier because of its geographical origin. The tropical fruits are great, but cannot prevail over the bitter oak. This is also a bit too bitter and too dominant for me.
Posted in Kinclaith (closed 1975)
Tagged 1990s, 40%, 5cl, Gordon & MacPhail, Kinclaith, Kinclaith (closed 1975), Lowland, Lowlands, NAS, Online Whisky Auction, Single Malt
Bought: Tesco, 22nd September 2017
85.41/100 – Whiskybase (average from 19 member votes)
When Highland Park met ‘Game of Thrones’ the ‘Dragon Legend’ was born. It’s like when Harry met Sally but with more fire breathing and less fake orgasm. Highland Park claim ‘Dragon Legend’ has got something to do with Vikings but we can all see through the thin façade. Clearly someone at the distillery’s marketing department loves heraldic, Valhalla, Lord of the Rings fantasies. The Hobbister release in 2016 even had the word ‘Hobbit’ in it! I rest my case.
But, marketing aside, the new Dragon Legend is scoring very well on Whiskybase. Over 85/100 is an excellent mark, especially when compared to similarly priced NAS (no age statement) bottles from Highland Park such as the Einar (80.3/100) and Svein (81.4/100). Comments on Whiskybase about the Dragon Legend include “more full-bodied, sherried and peaty than the Valkyrie, but less fruity”, “better than the standard 12YO and IMO better than the Valkyrie” and “there’s certainly enough complexity and distillery character to be able to recommend this whisky at its £40 price tag”. Tesco have even had it on offer at £30 – wow!
Here’s Martin Markvardsen, senior brand ambassador for Highland Park, giving us the tasting notes for the Dragon Legend (October 2017):
Bought: Morrisons, 11th September 2017
77.34/100 – Whiskybase (average from 34 member votes)
81/100 – Malt Box (video below)
I must confess I haven’t finished my bottle of Glen Moray ‘Elgin Classic’ from 2013 but when Morrisons supermarket reduced this newer version to £16 I couldn’t resist. It might be NAS (no age statement) but the distillery isn’t a mystery and it can hold its own for flavour against whiskies at double the price. I love this stuff, even if I haven’t had many occasions to finish its predecessor. The best time to drink it is when you fancy a dram but you don’t have time to give it a lot of attention. Perhaps when watching a movie or sharing it with someone who likes a whisky but isn’t a connoisseur.
Scoring just over 77/100 on Whiskybase might not sound like a great score but it’s over a point ahead of the previous version, which scores 76/100 from 51 votes. Comments online include “a very drinkable single malt at a fair price”, “young and quite harsh”, “it’s entirely acceptable to the average palate and even the Whisky expert would probably find it not without merit” and “I enjoy its crisp citrus and lemony flavours on ice with a splash of water”. Ice? Why not! It’s not as if you’ll be losing the complexity by chilling your taste buds. Several people consider the Glen Moray ‘Elgin Classic’ to be a very refreshing summer dram.
Tasting notes from Master of Malt:
Nose: Light, fresh. Grist. Nutty, floral. Dried grass. Slightly fruity.
Palate: Oak, gentle. Well balanced, walnut, grist. Citrus, lemon sponge.
Finish: Tangy citrus, spicy fruitcake.
Here’s Andy from ‘Malt Box’ with his thoughts about this Glen Moray (Sept 2017):
Bought: Master of Malt, 4th September 2017
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):
Bought: Auriol Wines, 1st September 2017
85.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
82.6/100 – Whiskybase (average from 125 member votes)
4.5/5 – Master of Malt (average from 20 reviews)
When I think of ‘Glen Scotia’ I remember the dumpy green bottles of 8-year-old from the 1970s, or the colour-coated bottles when I started collecting whisky in 2013. I quite liked the look of the black 12yo, green 15yo, blue 18yo and burgundy 21yo but the poor ratings stopped me for buying any of them. The general consensus seemed to be that Glen Scotia had made a flavour and marketing boo-boo.
You wouldn’t think that NAS (non-age statement) would be the best direction for the Campbeltown distillery to go but that’s what happened with the arrival of the ‘Double Cask’ in 2015. It was a bit of a gamble but it seems to have paid off. Scoring 85.5/100 in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible classifies this dram as ‘very good to excellent whisky, definitely worth buying’. He summarises with “soft and easy drinking with an excellent early delivery spike of intensity. But a dull middle and finish. And dull has never been a word I have associated with this distillery. Ever.”
Scoring 82.6/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score with comments of “whoever likes the modern “designed” whisky style will probably enjoy this dram”, “nice daily dram, but not overly spectacular”, “a good whisky if a little vague” and “very fine Glen Scotia for around 40 EUR. Surprisingly good and affordable.”
From my own tasting of the Glen Scotia ‘Double Cask’ I can honestly say I like it. It’s certainly subtle but you wouldn’t expect anything else for the price. I enjoyed the “excellent early delivery” Jim Murray mentioned but then I got hit by that unique Campbeltown flavour on the palate. It’s not as intense as the Springbank 10yo but it’s there and very enjoyable. If I drank Campbeltown whisky regularly it wouldn’t seem that special but, as an occasional dram from a distinct Scottish region, the Glen Scotia is delightful.
Tasting notes from Master of Malt:
Nose: Vibrant fruit emerges first (peach flesh and green apple peels), followed by chewy vanilla fudge, a hint of salinity, then an array of oak-y spices including some char.
Palate: Opens with more fudge with a little dusting of powdered sugar. Powerful, oily and a touch herbaceous with some German brandy character.
Finish: Sherried notes come through more on the finish.
Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the Glen Scotia on YouYube (Aug 2015):
Bought: Highland Park online shop, 17th August 2017
84.89/100 – Whiskybase (average from 20 member votes)
The ‘Shiel’ is the second bottle in the Keystones Series, which started with the release of the ‘Hobbister’ in 2016. Both releases were limited to 1200 bottles and offered to the Highland Park ‘Inner Circle’ to gobble up as fast as possible. I missed out on the Hobbister in 2016 when I thought I’d joined the Inner Circle only to realise I hadn’t. Even when you manage to become a member you have to be careful to read emails from HP thoroughly and follow links and instructions to the letter.
The Shiel was released at a similar time to the Royal Mile Whisky Shop announcing their entrance into the auction market. They caused quite a stir by having an ‘ethics’ list on their new auction website which included, “Royal Mile Whisky Auctions will not accept for auction any limited edition whiskies within one year of release” and “whisky fans know that prices are not being artificially driven up, especially those new releases being ‘flipped’ immediately after release.” Will this stop Flippers from simply buying limited edition whiskies for a quick profit? No because they’ll just wait a year then sell. Not that I’ve seen any other auction house joining this crusade against flipping. It’s been over a year since the Hobbister was released and bottles are making £300 at auction having been flipped initially for around £350 before dipping to £200. Bottles of Shiel are making £250 so not as profitable for the Flippers as the Hobbister but still a good return for £81, even after auction costs.
For those of us who are actually interested in drinking the Shiel, which is what it was designed for, initial ratings are very good. Scoring nearly 85/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score but lagging behind the Hobbister, which gets 88/100 from 12 member votes.
Tasting notes from Highland Park for the Shiel:
Nose: Unashamedly smoky, camphor, eucalyptus, violets and vanilla
Palate: Dry peatiness, pencil shavings with light vanilla
Finish: Dry and lingering peatiness
Bought: Auriol Wines, 11th August 2017
80.26/100 – Whiskybase (average from 33 member votes)
Scapa distillery say about the Glansa on the box and bottle, “taking our signature smooth fruity single malt, which is aged in American oak, this expression is then rested in peated casks creating richness and depth, with notes of warm, heather-honey and soft fruits giving way to a subtle smoky finish.” They also include that it’s batch GL01 and bottled in August 2016. Over a year later and there hasn’t been a new batch, unlike the Skiren released in 2015, which is now on batch 8. It looks like the Glansa is a bit of a one-off.
I saw one comment online suggesting that finishing the Glansa in peated casks (probably from Islay) was a bit of a cheat. This was a weird remark because cask finishing has been common practice for a long time and there are many examples of excellent whisky finished in peated casks. The comment also misses the point – this is a rare release from a fantastic distillery that is trying something different. Those that know the Scapa signature will also know that adding peat should harmonise well. And for Scapa fans it’s a good sign that the distillery is still alive and not close to closing down as it has done in the recent past.
Comments online include “a nice balance between the sweetness of fruit and the smoke/peat”, “delicious stuff, better than many a standard” and “better than Skiren”. The scores back up the last comment where the Skiren comes in at 79.86/100 on Whiskybase, fractionally below the Glansa. Not that there’s much in it but it sounds like the Glansa is a good addition to the history of the Scapa distillery. Long may it continue!
Tasting notes from Master of Malt:
Nose: Fruity sweet notes of soft peach, pineapple, vanilla intermingled with subtle bonfire smoke.
Palate: Peach and ripe flavours and creamy caramel toffee and vanilla balanced perfectly with soft smoke.
Finish: Very long with a markedly smoky finish.
Here’s Horst Luening of Whisky.com with his thoughts about the Scapa Glansa (Dec 2016):
Bought: Master of Malt, 2nd August 2017
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.
Bought: Tesco, 2nd August 2017
86/100 – Whisky Bible 2018
81.3/100 – Whiskybase (average from 197 member votes)
As it says on the back of the tube “a Glenfiddich whisky finished in IPA craft beer casks, something never done in the industry before”. I don’t see many other distilleries falling over themselves to do it again. But credit to Glenfiddich for trying something different, especially as experimentation is not something generally associated with the distillery. One common remark about the new ‘IPA’ is that the actual ale element is hard to detect on the pallet. This is not surprising given the whisky is only ‘finished’ in it rather than matured from birth to bottle. Unlike using sherry or wine maturation, ale has a similar creation process to the early stages of whisky, so it’s going to be difficult for it to stand out.
I’ve been interested in pairing beer with whisky (separate glasses rather than mixing) for several years and this is where the Glenfiddich IPA scores extra points from me. I’ve seen this combination referred to as a ‘half and half’ online but I remember it as a ‘pint and a nip’ when I was a lad. Old chaps in workingman’s pubs would choose a blend rather than a single malt to go with a beer but these days the chaser can be whatever our wallets can afford. Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com) discusses pairing beer with whisky here on YouTube. The blog ‘In Search Of the Perfect Chaser’ also gives some combination examples.
Scoring over 81/100 on Whiskybase is a very good mark especially when you consider that the standard 12yo only scores 76/100 from 874 votes. The IPA scores exactly the same as the standard Glenfiddich 15yo, which gets 81.3/100 from 463 votes. Not bad for an experimental non-age statement. Comments online for the IPA include “lovely IPA odour with generous hints of toffee”, “fresh, fruity and full of citrus with a nice small touch of hops right at the end” and “probably won’t buy again due to the price but it was certainly worth trying once”. I agree with the last remark because it was on my wishlist for a very long time before I parted with £45 to get it.
Tasting notes from Master of Malt:
Nose: An elegant harmony of fresh green apple, William’s pear and spring blossom. Complimented with Aromatic hops and fresh herbs.
Palate: Vibrant with a zesty citrus note followed by creamy vanilla and a hint of fresh hops.
Finish: Enduring sweetness with an echo of green hops.
Here’s Vin PF of ‘No Nonsense Whisky’ with his thoughts about the IPA on YouTube (August 2017):