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Introduction

The Balvenie 17 Madeira Cask

This past holiday season was a great time to be an amateur whisky blogger. Marketing companies are into social media big-time these days. In addition to starting up Facebook pages, blogs and company-owned Twitter accounts, they’re reaching out to “real people” with these same types of accounts to get their message out. Around the same time I was contacted about receiving samples of JW Blue and Chivas 18 for review, I was contacted by a PR company representing The Balvanie, wondering if I was interested in trying out this year’s 17 year special release, finished in Madeira [fortified Portuguese wine] casks. Yes!

On December 23rd, a couple of weeks after I was told the sample would be shipped, a good sized package arrived that required signing. It was my sample, and I soon discovered why it had taken a little while to get here: the Liquor Fairy [amusing disclaimer mechanism from The Pegu Blog] had turned my small review sample bottle into a full 75oml retail bottle of The Balvenie 17 Year Madeira. Merry Christmas to me, and thank-you Balvenie! [Officially, it's "The Balvenie", but I'll probably fall back on just plain Balvenie much of the time]

Tasting Notes

Ok, after 2 weeks of a head/chest cold followed by a couple of healthy days, and then a week with a stomach virus…here, finally, are my tasting notes on this Christmas present. Not that you were dying to hear my take on it, but it’s been frustrating for me.

The Balvenie Madeira Cask Aged 17 Years; 43%; 2009; $120

Nose: This is easy to nose, with the alcohol staying out of the way. Sweet spices hit me straight away. Cinnamon & sugar for sure, and maybe I’m influenced by other tasting notes I’ve read, but I’ll go with nutmeg as well. It’s also reasonably fruity. Perhaps some apple, but it’s more like baked apple, not a fresh/crisp fruit. Also more than a little raisin. Finally, a rich vanilla comes through, and as I pull away, just a hint of fresh oak.
Note: On a couple of occasions, I felt there were some chocolate/orange on the nose, not unlike that part of the Dalmore 12 profile. However,  the above notes represent a more consistent picture of what I’m getting from this bottle.
Palate: More than most other whiskies I’ve tried, the nose prepared me perfectly for the mouth experience. Sweetness is quickly balanced by fruit and followed by the spices. There’s a bit of spicy tingle, but it’s pretty tame. I wouldn’t call this heavily bodied, but it’s not watery either.
Finish: No surprises on the finish. The taste just carries straight on through and slowly fades after a medium duration. Perhaps just a bit of added maltiness lingering at the end. With other Balvenies I’ve tried, there has been a little bitterness on the finish (not necessarily in a bad way), but there’s none of that here. There is some marginal drying on the finish.

Comments: I was struck by the consistent story this dram tells from first nosing to finish. That doesn’t mean it’s overly simple, though. While nothing particularly new was introduced on the palate and finish, nothing was really taken away from the multi-dimensional nose, either. This whisky is very smooth and accessible, and should appeal to a wide audience. Also, [not taste-related, but...] I love the Balvenie bottle shape. It makes a great glug-glug-glug sound when pouring. :-)

Rating

  • Score: 87/100 (B) I’ll still reach for a peated malt most of the time (even lightly peated like HP), but for a Speyside that’s not heavily sherried, this ranks pretty high for me.
  • Bottom Line: Very impressive Madeira cask integration, providing an extremely balanced and accessible whisky. The Madeira finish provides some nice spices that you don’t get every day with a Speyside scotch, without blocking out the fruitiness of the spirit. Enjoyable from start to finish.
  • Score higher if: You’re a big Balvenie fan to begin with, and/or Speyside is your favorite scotch region.
  • Score lower if: It’s all about peat and/or big sherry for you. This one won’t change your mind about more subtle Speyside offerings.
  • Value: This is definitely a step above the younger, very nicely priced Balvenie expressions. I think the Edinburgh Whisky Blog hit the nail on the head when they put this in their Christmas Gift Guide, as it would make an excellent gift, and appeal to both the occasional drinker and the connoisseur. At $120, though, I don’t see a lot of people buying this by the case. To consider the premium Bavenie expressions “values”, I’d want to see the Bavenie 21 year Port Wood come back down below $150, and these 17 year releases at or below $100.

Comparisons

Younger Balvenies

I did some direct comparisons with the 15 year Single Barrel and 12 year Doublewood Balvenie expressions. You can definitely taste the family resemblance when comparing to the Doublewood, which brings fresh apples, vanilla, some spices and a bit more oak to the nose. The Madeira takes this base profile to the next level. Everything is richer and smoother. There’s less fresh oak, but the vanilla is much richer. The 17 year also brings those additional spices from the Madeira cask. As for the 15 year, it’s got HUGE fresh oak. I like oak with stronger whiskies (Laphroaig QC comes to mind), but it’s almost too much for me here. I definitely like the way the finish tones this down in the 17 year Madeira expression. I also find the 15 SB to be much more “spirity” than the Madeira Cask, with the alcohol being more prominent on the nose.

Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban

My first dram of Balvenie 17 year Madeira immediately called to mind the Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, a 12 year finished in port casks. Madeira and port casks, both having previously housed fortified wines, seem to offer similar contributions to the whisky, at least where the spices are concerned. I’d love to see a review of this expression by Serge over at Whiskyfun. He doesn’t seem to be a big fan of the Glenmorangie finished expressions. However, to my [admittedly much less experienced] palate, this finished Balvenie feels very nicely integrated and balanced. Much less “constructed” than the Glenmo bottlings. That being said, I like the Quinta Ruban very much, and it does manage to scratch the same itch for me that the Balvenie Madeira does at a 60% discount in price.

Other opinions

There even more reviews than this out there, but here are some that stood out to me:

  • What Does John Know (Malt Advocate): – John was impressed by the balance of this whisky and awarded it a very impressive 90 points. I probably could have just copied and pasted his notes to represent my own findings.
  • Dr. Whisky: The good Dr. considers this one of the best in the Balvenie 17 year series.
  • whisky-pages: They also mentioned the shift from fresh fruit with their “stewed apples” reference.
  • Edinburgh Whisky Blog: Definitely some different references in the tasting notes, but I can see where they’re coming from.
  • Drinkhacker: An A- rating, but with a disclaimer that some might be put off by the Madeira finish. Perhaps, but I still think this is an amazingly accessible whisky.
  • discover whisky: Why wasn’t I aware of this blog already? I really like their notes in this review.

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Introduction

Lagavulin 16 (2009)

I think this is my first repeat review, but I’m going to change my rating on this one, so I wanted to write about it again. I’m talking about Lagavulin 16 (43% abv), this one bottled in 2009. This expression is surely matured in a mix of bourbon and sherry casks, but I can’t find any concrete description of their “recipe” like HP provides for their various expressions. My previous Laga 16 review was based on a 200ml bottle from 2006 that came with my Islay Collection pack. The price of this well known Islay single malt has dropped at the local big box liquor store (in AZ) from $80 to $70, more in line with California pricing. I hope it stays that way!

Tasting notes

Lagavulin 16 (OB); 43%; Bottled 2009

Nose: Great balance of peat smoke and sherry fruits/sweetness. The sherry isn’t strong, hinting at mixed cask maturation, but the overall effect is a rich one. It’s smoky, but not quite the camp fire you get with Ardbeg. There’s oak, but not in your face like Laphroaig QC. Definitely some iodine involved in the mix as well.
Palate: A rich, creamy mouth feel with a pleasant drying sensation and a bit of subtle spice. All parts of the tongue are involved in the experience. It could be stronger, though, with more spiciness. I think it would border on perfection if they could infuse a Talisker-like pepper and bottle it at 46-48%.
Finish: Very long, with continued drying on the tongue, along with some sweetness. Peat smoke and dried fruits linger perfectly in the back of the nostrils.

Comments: I’ve probably tried 50 additional whisky expressions since I first had Lagavulin 16. I still haven’t found a better “standard” expression, and only a couple of the premium bottlings I’ve had can equal or beat Lagavulin 16 (for my tastes). I know there are still a LOT of whiskies out there to try, but no matter what I discover in the future, this one will stand as an amazingly balanced and rewarding dram. Sure, I’d like to see it bottled at a little higher ABV, but I’m not sure they can afford to do this. It might be too good of a core expression! What would they do for an encore?

I put this right below Laphroaig 30 and HP 30, with this one being a much better value.

Rating

  • Score: 92/100 (A)
  • Bottom Line: Amazing balance and grace for a smoky, medicinal Islay malt. One of the very best.
  • Score higher if: Well, 92 points is pretty high. You’re just going to have to try it and see if it’s “special” to you.
  • Score lower if: 43% just doesn’t cut it for you anymore; you prefer a more ashy/tarry peat in your Islay malt.
  • Value: Not cheap at $65-$90, but I have no problem with the price, as I think this tops all of the 18 year malts I’ve tried in the same price range.

Comparisons

I compared this new 2009 bottle to the end of my 2006 Laga 16 bottle. They’re very similar, but I felt like there was a little bit of additional toffee sweetness in the 2006 version. Both on the nose and the finish. I think it was because of this that the smoke and dried fruits seemed a little more muted on the nose in the 2006 bottling. I also tried a little bit of Laphroaig Triple Wood next to the two Laga 16 drams. I really like the Laphroaig, but the sherry cask finishing just doesn’t provide quite the same level of integration and balance that the Lagavulin 16 offers.

I would compare the Laga 16 and 12 year old expressions, but they’re really completely different beasts. The 12 year (most likely matured only in bourbon casks) reminds me of a cask strength Caol Ila. Much more ashy and peppery than the 16 year. Plus, the 12 year is bottled at cask strength. The 12 year is also excellent, but you need to try both. It’s not an either-or proposition.

Other opinions

WHISKYFUN.COM by Serge has reviewed a 2009 bottle of Lagavulin 16 and gave it a very respectable 90 points. Check out Serge’s great review.

The always entertaining Ralfy recently did a video review of the Laga 16. He also gave it 90 points:

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Introduction

Chivas Regal 18 (200ml)

I’m sitting at my laptop, trying not to allow my rose-colored glasses to impact the content of this post. You may have noticed the plethora of Chivas 18 blog posts hitting the net over the past couple of weeks. Well, now it’s my turn to pile on.

A PR firm working with Pernod Ricard has been sending out samples of Chivas Regal 18 and Johnnie Walker Blue to bloggers as part of a campaign to raise awareness for Chivas as a premium, gift-worthy blend. I don’t know how I got onto their radar, but don’t you dare clue them in that I’m a second-rate hack. Getting free samples is freaking awesome!

Tasting Notes

Chivas Regal 18 “Gold Signature”; 40% ABV; $50 – $60

This is a Speyside-based blend, with the Strathisla distillery (bought by Chivas Bros. in 1950) reportedly playing a key role. According to World Whiskey (by Charles Maclean), Strathisla 18 is not available commercially, so Chivas 18 is the dram to have if you want some of this rarity.

Nose: Have you ever had Apple & Cinnamon Quaker Instant Oatmeal for breakfast? That’s the combination of scents that hits me with Chivas 18. There is also some honey, bordering on toffee, sweetness. Towards the end of a long whiff, I get additional fresh fruits like apricots and cherries.
Palate: The medium body is sweet and lightly fruity. The subtle spices are so light that you’ll likely miss them completely if comparing directly with other whiskies.
Finish: Subtle fruit and maltiness, along with a little vanilla. There is a delayed drying on the tongue, and no real alcohol burn to speak of.

Comments: Having previously referred to the Chivas 12 as “enjoyable but forgettable”, I was pleasantly surprised by the Chivas 18 year. The nose actually has quite a bit going on. The palate is a bit richer than the 12 year, and the finish lasts longer, but it’s still a blend that favors politeness over impact. I definitely enjoy this more than entry-level Speyside malts such as Glenfiddich 12 and Glenlivet 12, and feel it’s worth a jump in price based on taste alone. I’ll continue to evaluate this, but I’d give it a preliminary rating of B (83-87 points). Right in line with a single malt like Bunnahabhain 12. [Hmm...maybe a head-2-head between these two is in order]

Comparisons

Johnnie Walker Blue; 40% ABV;  $175 – $225

I would call JW Blue more of an “Island” blend vs. the Speyside focus of the Chivas 18. I’ve decided that there is little to gain by doing a full side-by-side analysis of tasting notes because of the different profiles. However, there are certain traits that are worth comparing. Both of these blends offer interesting noses, then yield to a more polite, accessible palate and finish. The JW Blue is especially impressive in its ability to melt away in the mouth and leave faint wisps of smoke in a way that won’t scare off the casual whisky drinker.

The Balvenie Founder’s Reserve 10 Year; 43% ABV;  $40 – $50

The Balvenie FR 10 is vatted from a mix of bourbon and sherry casks, and offers a profile that is VERY similar to the Chivas 18. The nose is very close to the Apples & Cinnamon oatmeal that I described above. I don’t get the additional cherries/apricots with the FR 10, though. Perhaps not quite as much sherry influence? On the palate and finish, I think there is a little more impact and last with the Balvenie, with more spices on the tongue. I was surprised at how close these are, though.

Longmorn 16 (2009); 48% ABV;  $80 – $100

Longmorn 16

Here’s a Chivas-owned single malt from Speyside that comes in very nice packaging and seems to disappear off of the shelves more quickly during the holiday season. It’s also a key component [the primary one?] in Chivas 18. Aged strictly in bourbon casks, the profile is different than the Chivas 18 and Balvenie FR 10. However, there are some common apple and cereal notes. What I wanted to draw out is the fact that there is much more impact on the palate, and a more aggressive drying on the finish, along with some bitter/sweet interplay. Having been focused primarily on single malts during the past year, I really appreciate these stronger traits in the mouth. However, I don’t think it’s quite as safe as Chivas 18 when it comes to gifting.

Conclusion/Value

Q: Is Chivas Regal 18 worth $55, and would it make a good gift?

A: Yes. I think it fits nicely between some of the entry level Speyside single malts and something like the Longmorn 16. It offers an interesting nose while remaining very accessible to the occasional whisky drinker, and it comes in nice packaging (locally, anyway, it comes in a fancy gift box similar in quality to the Longmorn 16 box). I don’t think it provides much of an improvement over Balvenie 10 FR, which costs less. However, there’s often more to perceived whisky value than taste. You’re paying for the age statement, knowing that you can’t get 18 year Strathisla anyplace else, and 18 year Longmorn is also a treat.

Q: Is Chivas Regal 18 a valid gift substitute for Johnnie Walker Blue?

A: No. If you were planning to impress somebody with a generous gift of Johnnie Walker Blue, do NOT expect to substitute Chivas 18 and get the same results. I’m not saying this is right, or that there is a quantifiable difference in the whisky itself that makes JW Blue worth 3-4 times the price. However, there is a certain mystique associated with JW Blue that a $55 blend cannot match. I’ll touch on that in a separate post.

Mystique aside, I’ll probably be scoring JW Blue a few points higher than Chivas 18 when I cover it in a separate review. There are also plenty of reasonably priced single malts that I have scored higher than either of these very pleasant blends. That doesn’t really have anything to do with the perceived value of the Chivas, though. If somebody gave me a bottle of Chivas Regal 18 for Christmas, I’d be very appreciative, and it would likely be a part of some good times with good friends in the coming months.

Other Opinions

Here are a bunch of links to other blog posts resulting from this Chivas vs. Johnnie Walker campaign. Happy reading!

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Introduction

Caol Ila "Unpeated Style" 2009

As with the two elder Taliskers and the Mannochmore 18 that I reviewed recently, I bought a 30ml sample of Caol Ila Unpeated 10 year from whiskysamples.eu as part of a set of 2009 Diageo Special Release samples. However, after taking a tiny sip of this CI, I proceeded to purchase a full bottle the day it became available at Loch Fyne Whiskies. I suppose I’m probably giving away the direction I’m headed with this review. :-)

Caol Ila has historically produced their whisky primarily for blends, with the regular CS, 12 and 18 year single malts having just been introduced in 2002 [according to the Malt Whisky Yearbook]. Caol Ila is a key component of the Johnnie Walker blended whiskies. While their bread and butter is a peated malt (I love the 12 year), I guess Caol Ila has been experimenting with low/no peating for quite some time. Perhaps some of that was put into blends in the past, but their first unpeated single malt offering just hit the shelves as a special release in 2006. For the past three years, this unpeated special release was aged for 8 years, as opposed to the 10 years of the 2009 release.

Tasting Notes

Caol Ila 10 “Unpeated Style” 2009, OB, 65.8% abv

Disclaimer: I’ve been reviewing all of the cask strength special releases at full strength. In this case, the CI 10 smells great at full strength, but pretty much burns the taste buds right off my tongue. I’m going to provide my notes based on adding 1 part water to 4 parts whisky. According to my handy dandy Easy ABVs iPhone calculator, that brings it down to about 53% ABV. The great thing about CI Unpeated is that it holds up very well when adding water.

Nose: Lemon drops as the primary component, followed by rich vanilla cream and some fresh oak. With a little more time, the oak seems to turn into spices (nutmeg and ginger?).
Palate: Thoroughly entertaining. Fizzy lemon sherbet turns to ginger powder (and possibly white pepper). My tongue is all kinds of tingly.
Finish: Lemon and vanilla, with a return of the oak for a medium duration, while the spice continues to linger for a while.

Conclusion

My top two goto whisky experts for notes and opinions, Ruben at WhiskyNotes.be and Serge at WhiskyFun.com, both gave the CI 10 Unpeated a good score, but not a great one. This certainly isn’t the most complex whisky out there, and I can understand the desire to mark it down a little because of that.

Fortunately, I’m not a whisky expert, so I’m going to unapologetically state that I love this CI Unpeated. Sure, that wonderful Caol Ila coal smoke is gone, but the citrus is there, and it’s balanced with just the right amount of sugar and spice to make everything nice [that's right...I just said that]. The fizzy lemon and spices make for a party in the mouth, and I can’t find anything “off” in the entire experience. This instantly became one of my favorite whiskies, and the bottle is disappearing fast.

Rating

  • Score: I’m going to say 89 points for now (same as Port Askaig 17). It could go higher.
  • Rate it higher if you’ve tried and loved some 15-20 year Rosebanks but wanted more excitement on the palate and finish (and fewer floral notes).
  • Rate it lower if you need high complexity to get close to 90 points, or if you require peat.
  • Value: The lowest price of the 2009 special releases, I think it’s a must buy if you can find it. [$60 - $70]

Other Opinions

In addition to the reviews mentioned above by WhiskyNotes and WhiskyFun, here are some other notes on this release from the whisky web:

Several bloggers attended a Diageo tasting of the whole Special Release lineup. Notes for CI Unpeated included:

I also sent a sample of the CI Unpeated over to Jason at WHISKYhost, and his notes have a lot of similarities to mine. I don’t think he likes quite as much as I do, though, based on his reference to Cragganmore.

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Introduction

bunnah_moineI’ve been sitting on a 30 ml sample of Bunnahabhain ‘Moine’ (from Feis Ile 2009) for a while now, and decided to finally give it a try. It’s bottled at 58.4% ABV, and only 642 bottles were produced and made available at the distillery during the Feis Ile festival in May 2009. The price is approximately $130. I ordered my sample from whiskysamples.eu, along with samples of the Laphroaig Feis Ile bottling and Laphroaig 10 CS Batch 001.

Tasting notes

On the nose, this definitely comes across as a young whisky, with noticeable alcohol edge in the form of nail polish. I’m getting an eggy/rubbery component that reminds me of Ledaig 10. There is definite peat here as well, and a little bit of citrus and honey.

On the palate, it’s hot. This one begs to have some water added. Much more so than even my 71.8% George T Stagg. In addition to the prickly heat, there’s a sweet peat flavor that’s reasonably enjoyable.

The finish is where the smoke finally comes through. It reminds me of Kilchoman new make spirit, but it’s not quite as “clean” of  a peat smoke. A little bit of egg comes back through the nostrils as well. There’s also some sweetness on the finish.

Conclusion

This is a very average whisky. Its youth comes through, but not in an exciting way. I found the nose to be slightly off-putting, but the mouth and finish were reasonably enjoyable once I added a little water. If you’re a big Ledaig 10 fan, I think you would like this, but there’s no way to justify the price of the ‘Moine’, even if it is an “exclusive” release. With only a 30 ml sample on hand, I won’t do a full score card, but I would tentatively rate this at 79/100. With a little water, it’s enjoyable enough, but the nose subtracts from the experience.

Making your own ‘Moine’

I mentioned that the nose reminds me of Ledaig 10, and the finish of Kilchoman 2 Year New Spirit. Well, I have both of those and decided to do a little experimental vatting with 70% Ledaig and 30% Kilchoman. The result? It’s not an exact match, but the overall experience was pretty darn close to the Bunnahabhain. I like the way the Kilchoman tones down the eggy/rubbery component on the Ledaig nose, and adds a cleaner peat smoke finish. This combo can also be had for a lower price than the ‘Moine’, even taking into account the fact that you’re buying two bottles.

Other opinions

  • WHISKYFUN.COM by Serge – The Lindores Boys did a guest report from Feis Ile and ripped apart the ‘Moine’ release.
  • WhiskyNotes.be – Ruben didn’t love it, but he had a greater appreciation than the Lindores Boys, giving it a reasonably good rating.

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Introduction

I recently purchased miniature (50ml) bottles of Chivas Regal 12, The Glenlivet 12, and Glenfiddich 12 so that I could compare the three and see if any one of them stands out as an entry level value for a “light” whisky. When I call them “entry level” whiskies, I mean that in two ways. First is price. I can get Chivas for $20 and the ‘livet for $26. The ‘fiddich 12 has gone up recently in Phoenix, and now goes for $35, but it used to be closer to the Glenlivet. The other way you might consider these to be entry level whiskies is in the approachability of the flavor. All three are very light drinks, and are significantly less imposing on scotch newbies than, say, something from Islay. For this comparison, I was especially curious about the Chivas Regal 12 given the lower price (at least locally), and wondered if it could stand up to the single malts.

Three miniatures

Three miniatures

Tasting notes

On the nose, all three start out at with a common base of apples and pairs, with the Chivas perhaps offering up some peaches as well. All three are also sweet, but they diverge here, with Glenfiddich reminding me of brown sugar, Chivas Regal being more caramel/butterscotch, and the Glenlivet having a lighter honey sweetness. The Glenlivet also stands out as being more floral (and a bit more lively) than the other two. The Glenfiddich seems to have a maltiness, and perhaps a little bit of mixed nuts that I didn’t notice in the others.

The palate is pretty tame for all three. The Glens retained their fruit flavor, and the malty flavor from the Glenfiddich nose is evident in the mouth for both. The Chivas Regal seems to be more on the sweet side in the mouth, with the caramel/butterscotch continuing. I’m also getting what I perceive to be a walnut-like bitterness with both the Glenfiddich and the Chivas. Once again, I feel like The Glenlivet is just a touch more lively, with the Chivas being the weakest.

On the finish, there’s nothing to write home about for any of these. The finish just isn’t where it’s at for these whiskies. Once again, the Chivas is the weakest. It just goes away as soon as you swallow it. The malt flavor on the two Glens comes up through the nostrils a bit, as does the floral element on the Glenlivet.

Conclusion

As you might have guessed from my notes, I didn’t find any of these to be “remarkable.” However, that doesn’t mean I don’t like them. I thought all three were very pleasant on the nose, and they were extremely easy to drink. All three have a very light profile that makes them suitable for any time of day. Being into whisky as a hobby, I’ve got a pretty good stock at home, and I don’t plan to rush out and buy any of these. However, if I find myself killing time in an airport lounge some afternoon, I won’t hesitate to order any of these three easy drinkers.

I don’t intend to fill out full “Quick Take” report cards for these three. Especially since I only have miniatures, so I can’t do extensive, multi-day analysis. However, these fit perfectly into the C+/B- range in my rating system. They’re enjoyable drinks, but somewhat forgettable. Based on palate/finish, the Chivas is the most quickly forgotten. For my tastes, the Glenlivet stood out slightly above the others just because it seemed a little more lively and interesting. I’ll go ahead and throw out some rating numbers and notes on value:

  • Chivas Regal 12 – 79/100 (Value: Seems like a good deal at $20, but I’d shell out the extra $7 for the Glenlivet)
  • Glenfiddich 12 – 80/100 (Value: Not sure what the deal is with the current local price. For $5 more, I’d definitely purchase the 15 year over this)
  • The Glenlivet 12 – 81/100 (Value: Hard to go wrong with this at $27)

Other opinions

Rather than posting a bunch of links for all three whiskies, I’ll just point you to a YouTube video review for each one. You won’t have any problem finding other opinions with a Google search.

  • The Glenlivet 12 [IslayScotchWhisky]
  • Glenfiddich 12 [ralfystuff] – Ralfy also reviewed The Glenlivet 12 here.
  • Chivas Regal 12 [peatluvr]

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Bruichladdich 3D3

Bruichladdich 3D3

Introduction

In my attempt to remain a Stage 3 single malt fanatic, and not progress to Stage 4, I’m turning my focus more to whisky samples as a means of discovery. My local Bevmo recently stocked a 3-pack Bruichladdich sampler, containing 50 ml bottles of Rocks, Links and 3D3. I’ve tried Bruichladdich 15 year and thought it was “nice”, but I was really interested in trying these other expressions to see if they’re more interesting. Rocks and 3D3 are part of the “Multi Vintage” line of Bruichladdich malts, while the Links series is part of their “Special” line.

Bruichladdich [brook-laddie] 3D3 (third edition of 3D), released in 2006, is a single malt bottled at 46% and vatted from three different aged malts. The very first Octomore (peated at 80.5 ppm) is one of the three, making this the highest peated version of the 3D series at about 40 ppm. Port Charlotte is the other peated malt in this mix.

Note: 3D3 has been replaced by the “Peat” expression in the Bruichladdich lineup. Apparently they’ve toned down the peating level to 35 parts per million.

Tasting notes

On first nosing, I got a pretty strong “pure peat” presence, along with apples and vanilla. There’s also a cereal grain element that reminds me of some other young peated expressions I’ve tried. On second try, there’s more fruit than just apples, and it’s sweeter. It’s kind of like a mixed fruit cup.

The palate starts soft, then builds to big peat and pepper. I really like this! Take a good sized drink and it really coats the mouth nicely.

On the finish, lots of smoke and peat come up through the nostrils. Like you’re standing over a camp fire. The pepper fades fairly quickly, but the smoke lingers for a while, as long as you take a good mouthful (my first small sip disappeared quickly). I do get a little bit of an aftertaste (hay, maybe?) that I think is coming from the younger malt in this mix, and that kind of sours the great peat/smoke experience.

Conclusion:

After my first dram, I described it as tasting like a young Ardbeg. After the second dram, with the additional sweetness and fruits coming out, it reminds me more of the BenRiach peated and finished 12 year releases. What’s special about 3D3 is the way it hits the palate fairly softly, then builds. It’s huge peat, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. The guys at whisky-pages.com note that Jim McEwen, the Bruichladdich master distiller, calls the 3D3 “potent, but not aggressive.” I think that’s a great way of describing it.

At $50, I’d buy a full size bottle of this. At the $70 it’s going for locally, I think my bottle of BenRiach Arumaticus Fumosus will satisfy the same craving, but without the minor “off” notes that I’m attributing to some of the youth in the 3D3. I’m putting Bruichladdich peated expressions on my watch list, though. I think they’re really on to something here with the way the peat hits the palate. I hope to buy a sample of Port Charlotte PC8 this year and compare that to my 3D3 experience. I’d say 83/100 points for this one, with the potential for other Bruichladdich peated expressions to go much higher.

Other opinions

  • WhiskyNotes.be – Great notes as always from Ruben. He also notes some youthful roughness, but gives it a good overall rating. He has a great description of the 3D3 “recipe” at the top of his post. Also read his Port Charlotte PC6 review for a comparison to 3D3.
  • whisky-pages – Good notes, good review, and that quote from Jim McEwen. A good read.
  • WHISKYFUN.COM by Serge – A great rating of 88 points. He’s obviously not bothered by the youthful aspects of this dram.

Quick Take

Laddie 3D3 Quick Take

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Introduction

A pour of Ben Nevis 13

A pour of Wild Scotsman Ben Nevis 13

Wild Scotsman single cask: 1992 Ben Nevis 13 year, 46%, Cask #693

I discovered Wild Scotsman whisky via Twitter, where the Wild Scotsman himself, Jeffrey Topping, is an active member. Following the Twitter profile link to his site, I discovered that this is an American who travelled to Scotland to learn about whisky making, somehow got in tight with Master Distiller John McDougall, and then started his own whisky company. How’s THAT for an exciting way to live the American dream? He offers a couple of his own vatted malt expressions, a number of single casks from different distilleries, and U.S. distribution of some John McDougall single cask selections.

Intrigued, I looked through the available Wild Scotsman bottlings online at Sam’s Wine and Spirits store, located in Chicago. I found this single bourbon cask Ben Nevis 13 year, a distillery from which I’ve been wanting to try an expression. There was no information about this bottling on the Wild Scotsman web site, so I dropped Mr. Topping a note asking for information on it, and he sent me the following:

The Ben Nevis was my first single Cask bottling after the release of my first signature Vatted malt. At the time I was in an apprenticeship with the only Master Distiller and Blender in the World, John McDougall of Scotland. On one of our tours we traveled up to the Ben Nevis Distillery to meet with his first apprentice, Collin Ross, who is the distillery manager at Ben Nevis even today. It was a bit surreal to have a behind the scenes tour of Ben Nevis with two men whose combined career in whisky spans over 70 years. They can forget more in a day than is written in most books about Scotch whisky.

After the tour we had a wonderful lunch in the reception. Lamb Broth Stew, sandwiches, and some good conversations about some of the history both of these men have lived and continue to live. We continued to the board room and we sampled some of the casks we owned. The samples were pre-arranged as there is an extensive amount of paperwork to withdraw samples and other matters which are all policies of both the government and Nikka which owns Ben Nevis. It was quite interesting to have cask samples of an Ex-Sherry, Ex-Port-Pipe, and Ex-Bourbon, which are all components of the single malt brand. One could almost pick out the role each component plays in making the brand. I was blown away about how subtle and sweet the Ex-bourbon cask of Ben Nevis I owned had matured and knew at 13 years this cask would be ready for bottling.

I reduced the proof down to 46%,with no added color, no chill filtration. It is a great dram for the heat.

Tasting notes

Straight out of the bottle, I notice a bit of a pungent smell, reminding me of furniture polish, and possibly something slightly sour. While it’s a bit sharp, I don’t find it particularly offensive. Others might have a different reaction. Of note, letting a glass of this Ben Nevis sit for 15-20 minutes (with a watch glass on it) seems to help this expression more than I’ve noticed with other whiskies I’ve tried. My notes are based on drinking it after it sat for 20 minutes in the glass.

On the nose, I get some alcohol, but not a lot. I don’t feel particularly inclined to water it down any further. The primary scents are lemon drops and yogurt, along with some hay or cut grass in the background. One of the three times I tried it, those traits combined to make me think of iced tea with lemons in it. Overall, it’s a “light” nose, even with that sharp initial attack.

On the palate, this Ben Nevis has a nice body to it. It’s reasonably think and oily. Most impressive, though, is the reaction on the tongue. I’ve got sweet and salty going, with a little sourness, and finally a slight dark chocolate bitterness. Lots of tingling going on all over the tongue! There’s a drying on the tongue that provides some additional tingling on the sides.

The finish doesn’t bring back much of the nose at all, which I found a little bit unexpected. However, there does seem to be a bit of a white pepper sensation, and a hint of malt. Perhaps a slightly stale malt. The pepper sticks around for a while, as does the drying sensation on the tongue.

Back Label

Back Label

Conclusion:

The bottom line is that I find this Wild Scotsman Ben Nevis quite enjoyable. Nothing earth-shattering, but a nice light summer dram, with a little extra bite on the tongue compared to something like Bunnahabhain 12. In fact, I’d say my overall enjoyment is similar to the Bunna 12, so I would rate this the same at 83/100 points. One point down for having to wait a bit for the initial furniture polish attack to ease up, but a point added back for the extra zip in the mouth. As for deciding between the Ben Nevis and the Bunna, it will come down to whether I’m in the mood for lemon drops or apples and cinnamon.

Reading through the notes about Ben Nevis on Malt Madness (Johannes doesn’t seem to care much for the expressions distilled in the 1990s), I’m thinking Jeffrey Topping did a nice job with this Ben Nevis release. At $58, I think it’s a fair value for a non chill-filtered single cask. I’ll certainly be keeping Wild Scotsman on my radar, and will be trying more of their expressions. I’m curious about the vatted malts, but also quite intrigued by the John MacDougall Bladnoch single casks. In time, hopefully I’ll be able to report back on both.

Other Opinions

I was just about to write that I couldn’t find any other opinions on this rare single cask release. Then I found a review on Malt Advocate. I had looked in the review section under Wild Scotsman. It’s actually under Ben Nevis:

  • Malt Advocate – John Hansell was very impressed with this release, awarding it 87 points! I’m not ready to go that high yet, but maybe after I improve my ability to distinguish subtleties in a light bourbon-casked malt I’ll see things differently. John’s obviously got a lot more experience than I do.

Quick Take

Here’s my “quick take” graphic for Wild Scotsman Ben Nevis 13. For more info about this format, and my rating system, see this post.

Wild Scotsman Ben Nevis 13

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Introduction

As I await the arrival of my purchased copy of Whisky & Jazz by Hans Offringa, I thought I’d go ahead and do my own Whisky & Jazz post. I was sitting with a couple of Lagavulins recently, going through my classic jazz collection, and I came across an amazing pairing: Lagavulin 1991 Distillers Edition and The Complete Norman Granz Jam Sessions, by Verve. This bottle of Lagavulin was bottled in 2007 at 43%.

Norman Granz and Lagavulin DE

Norman Granz and Lagavulin DE

I found out about The Complete Jam Sessions three years ago, reading about it in John Marks’ The Fifth Element article in Stereophile magazine. You can follow the link to read his article and learn all about this amazing compilation of recordings. Here are just some of the musicians Granz pulled together for these jams, recorded in 9 sessions during the early 1950s: Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Ben Webster, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Buddy Rich, Herb Ellis, Stan Getz, Count Basie, Charlie Shavers, and Johnny Hodges. Pretty crazy, huh?

Listening and tasting notes

I want to start with the same Ballad Medley from disc 1 that John Marks raved over, which I listened to last night while drinking the Lagavulin 1991 DE.  I started up the song on my stereo system and poured the Laga while Barney Kessel kicked things off on guitar…

On the nose, the Lagavulin DE has the classic Lagavulin peat smoke. Lost from the standard Lagavulin 16 bottling, at least to my nose, is the apples and vanilla. Instead, an extra sherry presence from the PX casks is presented, rising up seductively through the smoke in the form of dried fruit and ripe berries. Meanwhile, Charlie Parker comes in on alto sax, playing Dearly Beloved. He’s drawing me right in with a solid performance, but things only get better…

On the palate, Laga DE provides a nice strong body, tickling the sweet and salty taste buds and maintaining a strong peat presence. There seems to be a little richer, weightier mouth feel than on the 16 year. Next up on the Ballad Medley is Ben Webster on tenor sax with The Nearness of You. He builds on the foundation provided by Parker with increased dynamics in the intonation that brings out more emotion.

The finish on the Laga DE does not disappoint. It’s got the same explosion of smoke that is so great on the 16 year, and the sherry stays right there front and center in the mix. And the length? I could sit through the rest of the 17 minute Ballad Medley contemplating the finish. After Webster, Johnny Hodges steps in with his rendition of I’ll get by. I was already entranced by the mastery of Parker and elegance of Webster, but Hodges blew me away. I could swear he was feeling inspired by the previous solos, and his tenor sax just oozed emotion. Marks said he was “all gelatinous” by the time Flip Phillips came in 4 minutes later, but I melted about 20 seconds into Hodges’ solo.

Similarities of dram and jam:

Lagavulin 1991 DE brings the bold flavors of Islay peat and Pedro Ximenez sherry together in a way that totally works. You might expect a disjointed effort (especially since the sherry is just a “finish”), but there’s a great interplay and harmony of flavors. Similarly, the Norman Granz jam sessions bring together some of the best jazz players of the time. Sure, there is showmanship involved. On the ballads, however, it’s all about showing emotion, and the competition at that level draws you into the song and results in a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Tasting conclusion:

When I first tried the Lagavulin DE, my feeling was that it was better than Lagavulin 16. However, I’ve compared them a number of times since then, and I’ve decided that it’s like trying to decide if a Cadbury chocolate bar with caramel is better than the original. To me, they’re equally good, just different. That’s how I now feel about the two Lagavulins. With the DE, you get the extra sherry influence, and perhaps a bit more body on the palate, but you lose the apples and vanilla that provide additional complexity on the Laga 16. Right now, I’m on a sherry kick, so I might give a half point extra to the DE, but I’m going to round down and give it a 91/100 to match my score for Lagavulin 16.

Listening conclusion:

When I first started listening to the Jam Sessions, I gravitated to the ballads, listening to them over and over. Since then, I’ve really gotten to where I get a kick out of listening to ALL of the songs in the box set. It’s amazing to hear these huge names in jazz belt out solo after solo. Right now, I’m really digging disc 3, with a couple of great trumpet players strutting their stuff…Roy Eldridge blowing great solos throughout, and Dizzy Gillespie joining him on Stompin’ at the Savoy. However, for the purposes of this post, it’s the ballads that go so beautifully with the Lagavulin DE in the evening after the kids have gone to bed.

Finally, I don’t know that I’d recommend either of these to beginners. On the whisky side, I’d recommend checking out the Lagavulin 16 before venturing into the Distillers Edition. Likewise, I’d check out some of the core body of work from people like Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson and Dizzie Gillespie before jumping into these extended jam sessions. Maybe next time I’ll write about a good introductory whisky & jazz combination. You can download the Jam Sessions set for $45 on Amazon, or $50 on iTunes, but I’d go for the CD version from Amazon for $59 so you can enjoy reading through the included booklet.

Other opinions

Lagavulin DE 1991

  • WHISKYFUN.COM by Serge – Serge seems conflicted between his desire to dislike “finished” whiskies, and the fact that the Laga DE is pretty awesome. He gave it 92 points blind, but does a seemingly tongue-in-cheek downgrade to 91.
  • Malt Advocate – 91 points here, also…and a better rating than Lagavulin 21 (which I agree with).
  • Whisky For Everyone – Some info about the Lagavulin distillery, along with some nice notes on the Laga DE.
  • YouTube – Peatluvr gives his video review of the Lagavulin 1991 DE

The Complete Norman Granz Jam Sessions

Of course, there’s the Stereophile review that I linked to in the introduction, and the Amazon reviews. Additionally:

  • AllAboutJazz.com – A write-up on this set by critic Norman Weinstein. His overall opinion of it seems to be positive, even though it seems like he doesn’t want to like it (he refers to the up-tempo songs as “noisy, competitive joustlings among hornmen”. Also, given my earlier comments about Ballad Medley on disc one, it’s probably not surprising that I disagree with his assessment that Johnny Hodges seems disinterested. I do agree with him, though, that the ballads are the “real deal.”

Lagavulin DE Quick Take

Here’s my “quick take” graphic for Lagavulin 1991/2007 DE. Scoring-wise, it’s almost identical to my Lagavulin 16 rating, with a little less on the nose and a little more on the body. For more info about this format, and my rating system, see this post.

Lagavulin 1991 DE Quick Take

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Quick Take

Here’s my “quick take” graphic for Lagavulin 16. For more info about this format, and my rating system, see this post.

Lagavulin 16 Quick Take

Introduction

[Update: I did a follow-up review of Laga 16 using a 2009 bottling in December, 2009]

I was going to do a write-up on a great whisky/jazz combination, involving Lagavulin 1991 DE. However, I decided I should post my impressions of the core Lagavulin 16 expression before delving into that special release, so I’ll put that one off a couple of days.

My introduction to Lagavulin 16 (bottled at 43%) came from a 20 cl bottle that I ordered from The Whisky Exchange. The bottle had a bad cork, got caught up in customs, and arrived with about half of the contents emptied into the packing box (kudos to TWE on their packing, as the smell was completely contained within the box). Upon opening the box, I was hit with a very strong medicinal smell, like band-aids and iodine. Taking in that strong odor from the spilled bottle, I was a bit skeptical of this Lagavulin stuff. This was to be my fourth Islay malt, and I was afraid I had finally met my match. However, as you can verify for yourself, the smell of a whisky spilled on paper is not indicative of the smell (nose) that you get out of the glass.

Oops! Bad cork.

Oops! Bad cork.

The Lagavulin 16 I’m writing about tonight is from another 20 cl bottle. This one is from the Classic Islay Collection 2007 gift pack, although the code on the bottle, which starts with “L6″, appears to indicate that this one was bottled in 2006.

Tasting notes

On the nose, that medicinal iodine smell is there, but to me, it serves as a backdrop to the other scents, not really standing out on its own. I’m struck by a strong fruity smell, like a combination of berries and apples. I could swear there is a sherry cask influence here, but I haven’t read anything definitive about the casks used for this expression. Perhaps it’s a mixture of bourbon and sherry casks, as there is a nice, creamy vanilla note coming out (bourbon cask influence). Finally, mixed in with the fruit and sweets is an equally strong, earthy peat influence with some associated smoke.

If you’re new to Islay whiskies, the iodine/peat might stand out to you the first couple of times you take in the nose. Stick with it, and you’ll see all of the elements integrate together beautifully over time.

The palate is substantial, with some sweetness there, but you really start to notice the peat influence. Then it grips your tongue, and becomes very dry. If you like a drying sensation from your whiskies, this one has it in spades. There’s also some spiciness, but I wouldn’t say this is one of the more spicy drams I’ve tried.

On the finish, there is an explosion of camp fire peat smoke. Hello, Islay! The berries come back, too, mixing with the smoke in a very pleasing way. I’m also reminded of the medicinal notes, but it’s still in the background. This finish goes on for a long, long time.

Conclusion:

Lagavulin 16 really hits the spot for me. It’s got earthy peat, combined with just the right amount of berries and vanilla sweets, along with enough of a medicinal character to keep you on your toes. I guess I COULD imagine an improvement with a little more of a Talisker-like pepper on the palate and finish, and possibly even a little more body. I’m reaching, though. There is an amazing balance as it stands. With the enchanting nose and endless finish, I can sit in my favorite chair, listening to a long classic jazz jam session, completely satisfied and free of life’s worries. Surely that’s worth 91/100 points.

Other opinions

  • WHISKYFUN.COM by Serge – A very good, but not great score of 89/100 by Serge. Although, I don’t see much in the way of negatives in his notes. He also discusses this classic malt from the vantage point of having tried many other versions.
  • Whisky for Everyone – They call this “a true ‘try before you die’ single malt whisky.” I agree!
  • Whisky Magazine – Huge scores of 9.5 and 9.75 from Michael Jackson and Jim Murray respectively. This article is from about 10 years ago, however. I believe I’ve read some opinions that Lagavulin 16 isn’t quite the “beast” that it was back then. I’m not sure how Murray rates the latest version in the current Whisky Bible.
  • YouTubeIslayScotchWhisky provides a very positive review. He mentions that it tastes almost exactly like it smells. That’s a good point. With the exception of my getting a lot more smoke on the palate/finish, I was amazed at how much of the profile carried through from beginning to end. Next, peatluvr gives a great account of how he didn’t like Lagavulin when he first tried it (early in his scotch drinking days), but now loves it.

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