Tag Archives: Single Malt

Strathmill 12-year-old ‘Flora & Fauna’

Bought: The Whisky World, 28th August 2020

Ratings:

80.32/100 – Whiskybase (average from 203 member votes)

Firstly, thank you to everyone for helping my blog reach the milestone of 300,000 hits. Does this make me one of the greatest whisky writers of the present day? Of course not but it’s a bit of an ego boost to encourage me to keep going. I’d certainly like Whisky Den to reach its 10th anniversary in 2023. If this is your first visit, thank you for helping me towards the 400,000 hits landmark!

This Strathmill 12yo single malt starts a short mini-series of three whiskies from the Diageo ‘Flora & Fauna’ range. If you are unfamiliar with this name I thoroughly recommend watching the video below by Roy of Aqvavitae (the Strathmill 12yo is discussed at 9:38).

Strathmill is a Speyside distillery located in Keith, across the town from the better known Strathisla distillery. Founded in 1891 from a former flour and corn mill, Strathmill was originally called Glenisla-Glenlivet. The name Strathmill means ‘the mill in the valley’. The distillery wasn’t known for single malts as the output was used exclusively for blends such as J&B but in 1993 Oddbins released an expression distilled in 1980. This was the first single malt released from the distillery for nearly 90 years!

Output from Strathmill is primarily unpeated and ex-bourbon. The 12-year-old is of this ilk and a good example of the house style. Scoring just over 80/100 on Whiskybase is a reasonable mark but not one that suggests this will blow your mind or become your favourite tipple of all time. But if you’ve never tried Strathmill it’s a good place to start (Roy certainly likes it!). Comments online include “simple, but very pleasant, quite rich and dense for its years”, “pleasantly fresh and soft whisky with alternating acidity and sweetness of citrus fruits” and “all in all a nice enough whisky that will not offend anyone”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: quite soft yet very fruity. A hint of grassy greenness with a nuttiness, there are notes of cut herbs and apples, hints of cut hay.

Palate: silken smooth in delivery. Notes of winter spice and vanilla custard, there is a nutty oiliness which carries everything gentle.

Finish: soft and slightly herbal with a peppered delivery.

Here’s Roy of Aqvavitae with his thoughts about the Flora & Fauna range on YouTube (April 2018):

Macallan ‘Gold’ Double Cask

Bought: The Whisky World, 28th August 2020

Ratings:

79.76/100 – Whiskybase (average from 68 member votes)

The last time I bought the entry-level Macallan it was simply called ‘Gold’ and it was part of the 1824 colour series along with Amber, Sienna and Ruby. This series was discontinued in 2018 but Macallan were clearly too attached to the word ‘Gold’ to let it go (the other three colours weren’t posh enough). With the introduction of the Double Cask series in 2018 the name ‘Gold’ lives on as the non-age statement (NAS) before the 12yo, 15yo, etc., in the range. I’ve heard it said that the Gold Double Cask sits between the former 10-year-old versions of the Sherry Cask and Fine Oak. The Gold will be younger than 10 years though.

The pre-2018 Gold was exclusively matured in Spanish sherry casks but the new Double Cask version is a combination of sherry-seasoned American and European oak casks. They’re clearly different whiskies but blended to share that same gold colour (or very, very similar). They also both share the same price (< £40) and are aimed at the same market.

The Gold Double Cask scores nearly 80/100 on Whiskybase, which isn’t bad especially when compared to its predecessor, which only scores 78/100. But it’s worth remembering that the previous 1824 ‘Gold’ was considered a replacement for the much loved 10-year-old sherry cask, so a lot of drinkers voted down the Gold without really giving it a chance (or tasting it!).

Over on Amazon this Macallan scores a very high 4.8/5 stars from 482 ratings. Clearly this is a mass-market malt that’s hitting a lot of the right notes. Comments online for the Gold Double Cask include, “smooth, full enough, not very sweet”, “great to drink on everyday occasions”, “acceptable and easy drinkable dram” and “I think I may have just found my new favourite malt. Wish I’d tried it sooner.”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: This burnished gold spirit presents a lemon citrus nose, the orange peel and an interlacing sweetness that softens but doesn’t eliminate the zest. A quiet note of vanilla is followed by dark chocolate – more assertive, yet not overly so – with a lingering floral and light oak notes.

Palate: Citrus and boiled sweets rule the palate, along with hints of ginger and cinnamon, while soft oak tones reveal toasted apples.

Finish: The finish is medium sweet, malty and slightly dry.

Here’s Great Drams with their thoughts about this Macallan on YouTube, June 2019:

Highland Park ‘Valfather’

Bought: Master of Malt, 17th March 2020

Ratings:

84.27/100 – Whiskybase (average from 162 member votes)

The Highland Park (HP) ‘Valfather’ is the third and final bottle of the ‘Viking Legend’ series, which kicked off with the Valkyrie in 2017, then the Valknut in 2018. Valfather makes reference to the Norse god Odin. His strength is reflected in the extra peatiness of the Valfather, which has been a highlight of this whisky for a number of reviewers. Presented at 47% with natural colour, you have to feel that HP kept the best for last.

Danish designer Jim Lyngvild provided his artistic skills for the presentation of the Viking Legend series. Did you know that Jim Lyngvild appeared on the TV show ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ in 2009? No, neither did I but it’s on his Wikipedia page. Apparently he’s known for his ability to eat things very quickly, which has earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records. If this skill also includes drinking, perhaps it’s best to keep him away from the Highland Park distillery!

Valfather’s score of 84.27/100 on Whiskybase is very good. It’s slightly less than the Valknut (85/100) but slightly more than the Valkyrie (83.7). Comments for the Valfather include “I was disappointed with the nose but give it a moment then wow”, “the flavours are intense yet amazingly balanced” and “smokey notes, fruity after taste with hints of vanilla, what’s not to like!”. Valfather also scores an excellent 4.7/5 stars on Amazon from 211 reviewers, although a lot of the 5 star reviews say “I gave it to a friend and they’re still speaking to me”.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Robust, but refined smoke fills the nose initially followed by delicate vanilla, Conference pears, green apple skins and a heady, heavy floral richness. Underneath there’s cedarwood, honeycomb, spice from black pepper and nutmeg, as well as salted caramel before the heathery peat makes itself known. A sprightly sea breeze note emerges with time.

Palate: Simultaneously huge and yet elegant, the palate is beautifully integrated. Layers of creamy vanilla, apricot yoghurt and a helping of crème brûlée interplay with notes of incense burners, iron and salted almonds. Then there’s bitter orange marmalade, charred wood and dried earth among touches of cacao powder, toffee apples and smoked paprika.

Finish: Long and confident. The floral smoke lingers for an age but is offset by tropical fruit and black pepper.

Here’s Ben and Horst Luening with their thoughts about the HP Valfather on YouTube, August 2019:

Dalmunach 3-year-old, 2016, Aberdeen Whisky Shop Exclusive

Bought: Aberdeen Whisky Shop, 21st May 2020

Ratings:

85/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)

Dalmunach is one of the newest distilleries on the Scottish whisky scene that’s owned by a big players in the industry, Pernod Ricard (Chivas Brothers). The ultra-modern distillery was built in 2014 on the site of the former Imperial distillery (also owned by Pernod Ricard), which was demolished in 2013 simply because it wasn’t economical to be refurbished. Dalmunach distillery is in Speyside not far from the Dailuaine distillery. The name ‘Dalmunach’ comes from a nearby pool on the River Spey.

In August 2019 I spotted on a whisky forum that 4-year-old bottles from the new Dalmunach distillery were now on sale as part of ‘The Distillery Reserve Collection’. Unfortunately this bottle was only available in distillery shops belonging to Pernod Ricard. As fortune would have it I was intending to visit one of these, the Strathisla distillery in Keith but not until October. Before making plans I contacted the distillery to ask about the Dalmunach bottle but sadly they’d sold out. At 64.5% it was going to be hot but a nice chance to try something new. Currently this bottle scores 82.1/100 on Whiskybase from 11 member votes.

I had to wait until May 2020 before getting my next chance to claim a bottle of Dalmunach, this time from the Aberdeen Whisky Shop. This exclusive release was put together by the independent bottler Duncan Taylor as part of their ‘The Octave’ series. Of the 22 releases of Dalmunach listed on Whiskybase, 15 of them have come from Duncan Taylor, 14 of which as part of ‘The Octave’ range. As the name suggests, the whisky has had its final phase of maturation in a smaller octave cask (in this case ex-sherry) to “enhance its hue, taste, form and character”.

The majority of ‘The Octave’ releases score in the mid 80s out of 100, which goes to validate Duncan Taylor’s 40+ years of experience of small cask maturation. For my 3-year-old example (5 months spent in an octave cask) a review says “needs more ageing” but adds “looking forward to trying older Dalmunach in the future”. Most definitely!

Dalmore ‘King Alexander III’

Bought: The Whisky World, 28th August 2020

Ratings:

86/100 – Whisky Bible 2020

85.75/100 – Whiskybase (average from 14 member votes)

I recently had a significant birthday and I wanted to buy myself a special whisky to mark the occasion. Browsing around online I spotted a good discount on the Dalmore ‘King Alexander III’. Over the years I’ve only heard good things about this Dalmore, which is remarkable because it’s NAS (no-age statement), chill-filtered, 40% and laced with Dalmore’s famous E150 colourant. On the surface this whisky ought to be mediocre at best until research reveals it’s a work of art. Richard Paterson, Dalmore’s Master Distiller, took whisky matured in 6 different casks (wine, Madeira, Sherry, Marsala, Port & Kentucky bourbon) and managed to harmonise them into something quite magical. In blending terms he almost did the impossible.

With the King Alex III firmly in my sights I had a look on YouTube for recent reviews. Scotch 4 Dummies started in 2015 and their ninth video in October of that year discussed this Dalmore. It was their first perfect score from all four of them. 5 years later they reviewed it again (below) and, to their surprise and mine, King Alex III got another perfect score. I’ve watched their videos many times and they’re usually pretty critical. Whiskies I’ve thought were perfect have been marked down. And after 5 years of trying other whiskies, to then give the same incredible mark to this Dalmore is amazing. I was sold!

Jim Murray’s score of 86/100 in his book ‘Whisky Bible’ dates back to 2009. Yes, seriously. Normally I wouldn’t include such an out-of-date review but, according to the Scotch 4 Dummies, the quality hasn’t changed in 5 years so why not 11! Mr Murray summaries with “starts brightly with all kinds of barley sugar, fruit and decent age and oak combinations, plus some excellent spice prickle. So far so good…and obviously thoughtfully and complexly structured. But then vanishes without trace on finish.” You have to think that 46% would have helped in that respect but I’m biting my tongue here. Other comments online include “interesting whisky and pleasant to drink” and “a masterclass of cask selection and blending skill” but there are quite a few references to the dram feeling ‘hollow’ and ‘thin’ with numerous remarks about the short finish.

The Dalmore ‘King Alexander III’ is clearly not a whisky for beginners. It’s hard enough contemplating how to bring 6 different cask maturations together let alone noise and taste them. But with so many whisky ‘experts’ berating NAS, colourant, chill-filtration and 40%, their influence can make it very easy, even for experienced whisky drinkers, to pre-judge this Dalmore. Perhaps my best option is to try it in a blind tasting. Whatever the outcome, I’m pleased to add this legendary bottle to my collection.

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Malty and utterly Dalmore. Seville orange zest, Parfait Amour, malty cereal, barley and chocolate. Creamy vanilla fudge, tropical fruit with a vaguely vinous quality.

Palate: Medium, rounded. Winter berries, spice, zesty orange. Liqueurs emerge; Grand Marnier, kirsch and Frangelico.

Finish: Peppery with well-integrated oak and the claret makes a last minute appearance.

Here’s Scotch 4 Dummies with their second review of the Dalmore King Alexander III (YouTube, March 2020):

Milk & Honey Peated Cask Finish (LMDW 2019, 55%)

Bought: Online Auction, 19th December 2019

Ratings:

84/100 – Whiskyfun (Serge Valentin, one of the famous Malt Maniacs)

I always love it when a new country joins the world of whisky production. In August 2017 I watched with interest as Israel’s Milk & Honey (M&H) distillery had bottles from its inaugural release up for sale on Whisky Auctioneer. The cheapest bottle went for £403, a bit more than my pocket money would allow but it was a great start for the young distillery from Tel Aviv. I made a mental note to get a bottle as soon as prices came down to earth.

Jump forward over 2 years and I won this M&H bottle at auction, made exclusively for ‘La Maison du Whisky’ in France. At 55%, non-chill filtered, natural colour, matured in ex-bourbon casks before being lightly peated in an ex-Islay cask – wow, this ticks all my boxes! It may only be 3’ish years old but the boys at M&H have the heat of the Middle East on their side, which gives a far more rapid maturation process. A skill they gained knowledge about from whisky consultant Jim Swan, who contributed to the success at Kavalan distillery, Taiwan.

84/100 is a decent score from Serge Valentin of Whiskyfun. He concludes with “very good, but the new ‘regular’ M&H is even better in my book”. Does M&H have a ‘regular’ whisky? Perhaps the 46% ‘Classic’ or ‘Elements’ as reviewed by my good friend Tobi over on Barley Mania. Serge is certainly not referring to the ‘Young Single Malt’, rated only 69/100. Which brings me to one issue I have with M&H; their terminology. When I read ‘Young Single Malt’ I can’t be the only one that assumes this is whisky, when in reality it’s ‘young spirit’ or ‘malt spirit’, which hasn’t reached 3 years old. ‘Young Single Malt’ is the sort of description I’d expect for Ardbeg’s 5yo ‘Wee Beastie’, which is most definitely whisky. But quibbles aside, M&H have certainly announced themselves with fanfare on the world whisky map.

Tasting notes from La Maison du Whisky where this bottle sold for a mere €65 (which seems too cheap!):

Nose: first nose reveals beeswax, candied fruit (peat), camphor and intense smoke. Allowed to breathe, it becomes animal (smoked meat), floral (tuberose) and rooty (gentian). The resolute attack is characterised by notes of talc and pommade (ointment).

Taste: The mid-palate evokes thin strips of dried peat. Gradually, the flavour palate becomes fruity and floral (banana, date, violet, dandelion).

Finish: The rich finish is candied (lemon), peaty and vanilla. The retro-nasal olfaction is vegetal (cut hay), saline and smoky (tobacco).

Masterclass by Milk & Honey, at Whisky Live Paris 2019 (YouTube October 2019):

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):

Highland Park ‘Saltire’ 13-year-old 2nd Edition

Bought: Highland Park Shop, 11th November 2019

Ratings:

86.87/100 – Whiskybase (average from 32 member votes)

Here we have the second release of the Highland Park ‘Saltire’, distilled in 2006 and bottled in 2019. Unlike the first release (distilled 2004, bottled 2018), which was limited to 734 bottles, the second release appears to be going on forever. At the time of writing ‘The Whisky Barrel’ shop are selling a bottle of the ‘Saltire’ 2nd edition for £300 but you can still buy it direct from Highland Park for £55. Auction prices are typically between £40-£50 with the 1st edition getting around the £300 mark.

Both releases of the ‘Saltire’ are 43% but it’s not just the limited number of bottles that make the first edition more expensive. It’s hand-signed by retired Formula 1 racing driver David Coulthard MBE, who Highland Park collaborated with to create the releases. For every bottle sold a percentage of the sale goes to the communities and charities in Dumfries and Galloway where David grew up. The ‘Saltire’ itself references the Scottish flag David had on his racing helmet during his F1 career. It’s a shame it’s not better used in the packaging design, which is rather drab and uninteresting. Speaking of which, the 1st edition has a tube but the 2nd edition is nude, no box, nothing. You can’t expect an extra bit of cardboard for £55, you greedy scamp!

Another thing that seems to be unique about the ‘Saltire’ is that it appears to be the only 13-year-old distillery release that isn’t cask strength. But that rather boring fact is probably only interesting to Highland Park collectors, if even them! The 43% might be a bit wimpy but that’s not stopped 32 voters on Whiskybase giving the 2nd edition a very respectable score of 86.87/100. I certainly supported David Coulthard when he was racing and I enjoy Highland Park whiskies, so getting a bottle of ‘Saltire’ is a win-win for me.

Official tasting notes say to expect caramelised mango, sun-ripened lemons, root ginger, silky vanilla, spicy cinnamon and aromatic smoky peat.

Here’s ‘Whisky Shared’ with his thoughts about the HP Saltire on YouTube (Sept 2020). Please note this is an age-restricted video so you may have to be logged into YouTube to view it:

 

Glen Scotia ‘Campbeltown Harbour’

Bought: Waitrose, 11th November 2019

Ratings:
87/100 – Whisky Bible 2020
81.14/100 – Whiskybase (average from 16 member votes)

As part of Glen Scotia distillery’s revamp they release a non-age statement (NAS) single malt called ‘Double Cask’ in 2015. For £30 it was 46% and matured in 1st fill bourbon & Pedro Ximénez sherry casks. Sounds good? Well I certainly thought so when I tried it. Jim Murray rated it 85.5/100 in his Whisky Bible book and it currently scores 82.1/100 on Whiskybase from 387 votes. Not bad. Not bad at all.

The ‘Double Cask’ left such a good impression on me that when I spotted the new ‘Campbeltown Harbour’ NAS release in 2019 I had to have it, especially reduced to £25 at Waitrose supermarket. It’s matured exclusively in 1st fill bourbon casks and at 40% rather than 46% it’s a different beast entirely to the ‘Double Cask’. You’d think with the lower ABV and less complex maturation that it might be inferior to the ‘Double Cask’ but Jim Murray doesn’t think so in his 2020 ‘Whisky Bible’. He rates the ‘Campbeltown Harbour’ 1.5 points higher than the ‘Double Cask’ and summarises with “this is very flat and far too caramel dependent, though the mix of saltiness and gentle sweetness is highly attractive. The smoke unfurls at the very finish….but for all its easy attractiveness, it is all a little docile and tame”. Not exactly complimentary but 87/100 rates the dram overall as a “very good to excellent whisky, definitely worth buying”. Especially if you can get it on sale for £25!

With only 16 votes on Whiskybase after nearly 2 years, I’m a little suspicious that the ‘Campbeltown Harbour’ had a very limited distribution. Whiskybase only list Waitrose as a supplier in the UK (where I bought it), then two shops in Holland and one in Poland. It’s nice to have found something so exclusive but it means there isn’t a review on YouTube. Comments online about the Glen Scotia ‘Campbeltown Harbour’ include “quite a nice malt for very understandable money”, “kind of tasty, but too little of everything”, and “what a great find, incredibly smooth and bursting with sweet and savoury flavours. Top notch.”

Official tasting notes from Glen Scotia:

Nose: Briny sea spray, perfumed floral notes of violet and lavender and vanilla

Palate: Fruity and sweet. Soft peach and green apple followed by toffee fudge and vanilla custard

Finish: Dry, medium length. Tangy peat complements maritime character