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: 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: Waitrose, 13th May 2017
78/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
78.22/100 – Whiskybase (average from 400 member votes)
I would never have bought the Macallan Amber if I hadn’t thought I’d secured a bottle of Ruby on Amazon. Unfortunately 3 months after I’d placed my order Amazon deleted it but by then I’d bought the Amber to go with the Gold thinking I’d only need the Sienna to complete the ‘colour’ set. Since it now seems impossible to get the discontinued Ruby for less than £200, which puts it out of my reach, will I bother getting the Sienna? Hmmm.
So I’m stuck with the Amber. Just as well I’m a fan of the Macallan profile in whatever form because the Amber has rarely done well in reviews. 78/100 from Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible 2015 classifies the Amber as “average, and usually pleasant though sometimes flawed”. In fairness his review is quite favourable, “the texture alone shows this should be something truly special. The first few moments of delivery likewise, with its astonishing Locket’s honey filling; honey is the unambiguous theme throughout. But the tangy presence of a few sub-standard sherry butts undermine some great work in the lab. I suspect the next bottling might be a corker.” Unfortunately we’ll never know because the review disappeared in 2016 and hasn’t reappeared since. Perhaps Mr Murray hasn’t retried the Amber, or he didn’t consider it worth another sip.
78.22/100 on Whiskybase is a so-so score bordering on ‘below average’ but the Gold scores an almost identical 78.19/100. As an experienced Macallan drinker I like the Gold and Jim Murray scores it 89.5/100. The Sienna, the next colour up in the series from the Amber, scores over 84/100 on Whiskybase so it’s considered a significant step up in quality. I’m still tempted to get the Sienna because several reviews have suggested it’s better than the Ruby and the best colour in the series. Comments on Whiskybase about the Amber include “Not bad this. It had quite a bit more flavour to it than the Gold, and was on the whole quite pleasant. It had quite a bit of bitterness and spiciness to it but in a refreshing kind of way.” And “Barely a step up from the Gold. A little more flavour but largely wood tannins and acetone.”
Tasting notes from Master of Malt (where it scores 3/5 stars from 31 votes):
Nose: Soft aromatic vanilla, lemon and barley with hints of ginger. Milk chocolate buttons and hints of Sun-Maid Raisins.
Palate: Surprisingly thick and fruity compared to the nose. Golden sultanas, dates, apple peelings and a dusting of cinnamon. Cereal notes on the mid-palate, joined by mince pies with crumbly shortbread.
Finish: Fragrant oak finish, with the mince pie notes lingering.
Here’s Jack Oughton with his thoughts on YouTube about the Macallan Amber (January 2015):
Bought: Waitrose, 14th June 2016
97.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2016
89/100 – Ralfy (www.ralfy.com – his video review below)
83.24/100 – Whiskybase (from 72 member votes)
97.5/100 in the Whisky Bible is as high as it gets from the author Jim Murray. No other whisky, be it a blend, single malt, vatted malt, single grain or bourbon scores higher. This sounds fantastic until you realise that Mr Murray’s review of the Ballantine’s 17yo is at least 6 years old. The score of 97.5/100 has been kicking around in the Bible for quite a while so you have to think the blend has changed a bit over the years. Back in 2009 the Bible had the Ballantine’s 17yo scoring 90.5/100, which is still an excellent score. It may or may not be the best blend in the world but whatever is in my 2016 bottle is still going to be excellent stuff.
Ralfy’s video review is also quite old (2010) but certainly worth watching. Over 83/100 on Whiskybase is a better than average mark. Saying that, one voter that scores the Ballantine’s 83/100 comments “a premium blend, but a bit bland.” And another voter within the last year remarks, “it’s a nice blend but it’s a bit dull, monotonous whisky taste”. Oh dear.
Finding recent reviews of the Ballantine’s 17yo is hard so I turned to Amazon where it scores 4.5/5 stars from 13 reviews. Comments made in 2016 include “as good as a single malt”, “this is the best blend I’ve ever tasted, a must have for blend lovers” and “superbly smooth, almost too smooth. Real mouthful with no kick”.
I’m much more of a single malt drinker so when I finally crack open this bottle of Ballantine’s 17yo I want it to be after I’ve tried a wide variety of blends. It wouldn’t seem fair to judge it based on my current limited knowledge, especially if this is as good as blends get.
Here’s Ralfy with his review on You Tube (December 2010):
Bought: Waitrose, 4th June 2016
91/100 – Whisky Bible 2016
80.95/100 – Whiskybase (from 436 member votes)
I’m surprised it’s taken me nearly 600 whiskies before adding this classic Bowmore to my collection. Or am I surprised? It’s a nice enough whisky but unlikely to be an investment and there are cheaper examples of Bowmore on the market. As Islay whiskies go the Bowmore 12yo is in the same price bracket as the Laphroaig 10yo, which is arguably nicer malt for Islay fans. But the Bowmore 12yo does have its place on the market, especially for those who’d like to give peat a try without going headlong into an Ardbeg gustatory tongue-tango.
Scoring 91/100 from Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible classifies this single malt as “brilliant”. Mr Murray says of the taste “soft, beautiful delivery of multi-layered peats; lots of effervescent spices and molassed sugars; spices abound.” He summarises with “this new bottling still proudly carries the Fisherman’s Friend cough sweet character, but the coastal, saline properties here are a notch or three up: far more representative of Islay and the old distillery style. Easily by far the truest Bowmore I have tasted in a long while with myriad complexity. Even going back more than a quarter of a century, the malt at this age rarely showed such relaxed elegance. Most enjoyable.”
81/100 on Whiskybase is a good mark but what you’d expect from an average of over 400 votes for a 12-year-old single malt. Comments include “disappointing overall, too watered down, I expected more from the price and pedigree”, “works better overall compared to the disappointing 15yo” and “very nice profile, of course not complex or full bodied, but nice entry malt/intro to the Bowmore distillery.” Several members feel this single malt would benefit from being stronger than 40% to help with the depth and body.
Here’s Luke Rymarz with his review on You Tube (January 2014):
Bought: Waitrose, 25th February 2016
95/100 – Whisky Bible 2017 (“a truly beautiful whisky” – Jim Murray)
87.13/100 – Whiskybase (average from 32 member votes)
The iconic Aberlour sherry-bomb does it again with another fantastic batch. After 52 previous batches the staff at Aberlour distillery obviously know what the formula is to keep delivering a quality product. The members of Whiskybase clearly agree because over 87/100 is a fantastic score. Here are the side-by-side scores comparing batch 53 with the previous 3 batches:
- 87.13/100 – Batch 53 (32 votes)
- 87.9/100 – Batch 52 (41 votes)
- 85.72/100 – Batch 51 (38 votes)
- 86.23/100 – Batch 50 (104 votes)
Comments about the taste of batch 53 include “orange, chocolate and lots of peppery zing”, “apple, cranberry, toffee, peach and incense” and “sweet, creamy, cherry, fruity (melon), honey” with several reviewers saying how complex this batch is with lovely chocolate notes. Summaries include “robust, heavy, very present and takes charge of your senses”, “very nice whisky” and “a great batch from Aberlour and really great value for money”.
Make mine a double!
Bought: Waitrose, 11th November 2015
87/100 – Whisky Bible 2016
73.62/100 – Whiskybase (average from 15 member votes)
I must admit I did very little research into this single grain whisky by Girvan before buying it. I checked my copy of the Whisky Bible and 87/100 sounded perfectly acceptable to me. That categorises this dram as “very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying” so I did. The author, Jim Murray, describes this bottle as “a first look at probably the lightest of all Scotland grain whiskies. A little cream soda sweetens a soft, rather sweet, but spineless affair. The vanillas get a good unmolested outing too.”
Hmmm, that doesn’t sound like a “very good to excellent whisky” to me. Perhaps the score of 87/100 should have been 78/100! Sadly the only written reviews on Whiskybase are in German but 73.62/100 isn’t a brilliant mark. I know some people use grain whisky for cocktails or add a mixer to them but not when bottles cost £40 like this Girvan. Saying that, the Haig Club was originally £50 and that was designed to look good on a shelf in a cocktail bar. But if I spent £40 on a bottle of whisky, grain or not, I want to drink it au natural and have a good experience.
Perhaps disliking this bottle of Girvan is a German thing. The only video review I could find is the one below by Horst Luening, the master taster at Whisky.com. He admits he doesn’t usually like grain whiskies because they have a tendency to be bitter and tasteless. This is due to the overuse of casks, which can be refilled 10 times before being dispensed with. By the tenth time there is little or no flavour to be gained from the wood (sherry, bourbon, etc) other than tannins, which leave a bitter taste. I get his point but surely Girvan aren’t so stupid as to bottle something up from a 10th refill cask? You’d hope they’d have the sense to bottle from a fresh cask and send subsequent refills for blending. Has Horst prejudged I wonder?
You Tube review by Horst Luening:
Bought: Waitrose, 28th October 2015
88.57/100 – Whiskybase (average from 25 member votes)
This is my fifth batch of one of my favourite whiskies of all time. The house style for Aberlour is medium bodied, comparatively sweet, sherry, honey, spices, fruit notes and malt. The A’bunadh is the Aberlour house style on steroids. This cask strength (usually about 60%) sherry bomb is always a pleasure to drink, especially in winter when you can feel the warmth of the first sip radiate out to your fingers and toes. It puts a smile on my face just thinking about how that feels!
Over 88/100 on Whiskybase is a fantastic score. Batches 50 and 51 manage to break 86/100 but over 88/100 means the majority of tasters consider Batch 52 an exceptional example of the A’bunadh. Comments include “great batch by Aberlour again”, “exceptional quality and balance” and “very good batch this one. One dram goes a long way.”
Bought: Waitrose, 16th October 2015
86.14/100 – Whiskybase (average from 30 member votes)
I can’t say it surprises me that there are no written reviews on Whiskybase after 30 member votes. The A’bunadh is so iconic there can’t be much more to be said that hasn’t been said already. Sometimes I see questions being asked on the Internet like “which is better, batch 48 or 49?” This is like asking if someone prefers strawberries or raspberries. You end up with some people saying 48 and others 49. The lowest mark in recent years for the A’bunadh in Jim Murray’s ‘Whisky Bible’ was Batch 41, scoring 83/100, which is still “good whisky worth trying”. Batch 50 scored an incredible 95.5/100 and Jim Murray’s opening remark about the taste was “wow!” That’s my comment about every batch I’ve tried and the A’bunadh remains one of my favourite whiskies of all time.
Batch 50 scores 86.48/100 on Whiskybase so only 0.34 ahead of Batch 51. If the score were in millimetres we’d be talking a hair’s breadth of a difference. One taste bud slightly disagreed with someone else’s taste bud. Basically the question isn’t about whether a batch is good, better or best (they all are to someone) but whether the consumer wants cask strength, sherry-bomb, Speyside whisky at a very reasonable price. If the answer is yes then any batch will do.
If you’re fortunate to have a Waitrose near you, watch out for price reductions on the A’bunadh to £33.50. This has happened several times between 2013 and 2015.