GlenlivetAlphaBig thanks to the folks at Deep Focus, a social media agency working with The Glenlivet, for sending me a free sample of the new Glenlivet Alpha expression that has only 3350 bottles shipping worldwide (not sure how many are coming to the U.S.). Especially since I’ve been flying under the whisky radar this past year (I’ll post more on that later). I haven’t checked out all of the marketing details, but apparently there is going to be a big “reveal” for Alpha in a few days, so I thought I’d go ahead and post some thoughts on the whisky while it is still something of a mystery (the box only states that it is a Single Malt bottled at 50% abv). The U.S. retail price is $120.

Tasting Notes

On the nose, my first impression is of cinnamon apples. Then vanilla custard, and finally some fresh wood shavings. Then back to the fruit, of the apples and pears variety. Looking online now at other reviews, I see people talking about lots of tropical fruits. Personally, that’s not the way I respond to this. It doesn’t strike me as tropical in the same way as something like Glenmorangie 18 year. But of course, this is all subjective.

On the palette, it starts out mouth-watering and juicy, sweet, then very slightly prickly on the tongue. There is a point where it becomes slightly nutty, and just as I start to expect a slight walnut bitterness, it pulls back. Very nice. It’s smooth as silk…almost buttery going down. It then becomes drying on the finish, before my mouth waters up again. A very enjoyable, if not particularly long, experience.

Update: On finishing my sample last night, I felt like there was some citrus included in the ample fruitiness. Primarily on the palate and finish. I Still don’t get pineapples or coconut. That doesn’t mean I think everybody else is crazy. Just some insight into my own taste interpretation.


The Glenlivet Alpha is an extremely drinkable expression that would be great for sharing with all levels of whisky drinkers. It strikes me as a Special Edition release of their Nadurra expression. The overall flavor profile (especially on the nose) is quite similar. However, the Alpha has an extra silky smoothness to it relative to Nadurra, in the same way the 17 year finished Balvenie expressions relate to the 15 year single barrel. Though, I don’t detect anything resembling the typical “finishing” casks of sherry or wine in Alpha.

So what is it?

If this is a game, and we’re supposed to guess what the heck is in this black Alpha bottle, I’d have to guess a combination of first-fill and second-fill American White Oak bourbon barrels were used to mature the spirit. There is no sign of coloring or chill filtration (like Nadurra). Age? That’s a hard one. Is the extra buttery smoothness in the mouth over the Nadurra due to age, or is it related to the type of casks used? Not sure. I could believe a number of scenarios: 1) It’s a year or two older than the 16 year Nadurra. 2) They use a combination of refill casks and smaller quarter casks to give the impression of extra maturity, while keeping the oak in check, or 3) this is just the result of very carefully selected casks by the master distiller.


Did I really enjoy this whisky? Yes. Am I going to seek out a bottle? No. Do I think you’re an idiot if you do? No.

I really like this whisky, but for me, the 16 year Nadurra (at $50/bottle locally) is close enough in profile to keep me satisfied. On the other hand, I have no immediate issues with the price of Alpha. They are saying that it was “carefully crafted” by the master distiller, and it is a limited release of 3,350 bottles. It’s not going to be for everybody, but then, the limited run kind of takes care of that. 🙂

I’ve seen much higher prices asked for “carefully selected” expressions…how about the Diageo Manager’s Choice a few years ago? Talk about crazy pricing. These things work themselves out, though. A bunch of those Manager’s Choice bottles can still be had at 40% discounts online. So far, The Glenlivet Alpha is selling out quickly. The UK allocation disappeared immediately. If, upon commencing with their “reveal” on Facebook later this week, people are outraged by what they hear, then I’d expect that feedback to influence future releases.

If they keep their main line whiskies priced reasonably, and of high quality, what’s the harm in experimenting with various boutique releases aimed at smaller segments of the market? I look forward to learning more about the story behind The Glenlivet Alpha.

B+ on my scale



“Unbelievable! Am I reading this right?!” That was my reaction after opening an unsolicited package from Master of Malt containing the following surprise:

Somebody over at MoM must have failed to notice my scattered blog posting frequency lately, but it’s here now, and it’s MINE! Thanks guys! This is what the full bottle presentation looks like:

The Glenfarclas team really went all out on the samples they sent. I can’t believe I got a little magnetically closing box, and the same book (minus signing and numbering) that comes with the full bottle! And now, to taste it, trying not to be swayed by the presentation and history…

Tasting Notes

Glenfarclas 1953 58 Year; 47.2%; ~$9,400.00!!!

[Single Sherry Cask (American Oak)]

In one session, I tried this sample all by itself. In another, I did a head-to-head comparison with some other reasonably mature Glenfarclas releases. Glenfarclas fascinates me with the way its 25 and 30 year old standard bottlings seem so young and fresh for their age, still maintaining some of that Speyside apple fruitiness, even after many years in sherry casks. Is there a breaking point for this spirit? 58 years in a cask seems like a pretty good test!

On initial pour, the nose seemed muted by a strong woody sawdust smell. Letting it sit for 10 minutes…

Ok, much bigger nose now! Peaches, a dalmore-like chocolate orange, raisins, and the oak has turned to butterscotch. I also get a slightly musty note that reminds me of  Glenmorangie Lasanta. Overall very rich and satisfying, with the usual Glenfarclas fresh fruitiness giving way to more mature, soft fruits and oak-influenced flavors.

Toffee sweetness in the mouth. Thick. Rich feeling. Juicy. Just a wonderful feeling on the tongue, with some white pepper coming on late. Slightly nutty late on the palate, too. Excellent delivery, and hard to believe it’s 58 years old!

Heading into the finish, it slowly grips the sides of the tongue, finally showing some stronger wood influence. A dryness slowly works from the sides over the top of the tongue on the long finish. I love this kind of drying action! Peaches and butterscotch are back in the nostrils, and then that musty note again. I hesitate to call it an “off” note. Although, this note does become more noticeable when doing head-to-head comparisons with other Glenfarclas bottlings. [Less of a problem in normal drinking conditions]

This 1953 bottling is definitely a different animal from the standard 21, 25 and 30 year Glenfarclas bottlings, which all have a much fruitier flavor. So there IS a point at which the oak can tame the Glenfarclas spirit a bit. I do get the feeling that bottling this cask 10 years earlier might have provided slightly more balance between fruit and oak-influenced flavors, and perhaps left the finish a little cleaner. That’s just speculation, obviously, and probably one I’m not experienced enough to make. 🙂


The 58 Year 1953 Glenfarclas is a lovely whisky, and one of the better Speyside whiskies I’ve tried to date. This tasting opportunity has been a tremendous education to see what can become of Glenfarclas spirit after such a long time in an American Oak cask. It’s good for 90-ish points on my personal scale, with a slightly musty note in the nose/finish bringing the otherwise complex nose and heavenly arrival back down to earth. I count myself extremely lucky for having been able to try this piece of history.

Postscript – The “S” word

I hesitated to use the S word (Sulphur) in the review. I don’t know if that Lasanta-like note was due to sulphur, but that’s what I had always attributed that smell/taste to in the Glenmorangie expression. Also, the fact that it was stronger when doing head-to-head comparisons with other whiskies made me think of my Lagavulin 21 experience. Anyway, just something to ponder out loud in the interest of full disclosure. I did encounter a couple of similar observations in Twitter conversations about this expression. Though, most of the reviews I’ve seen seem to place this expression almost beyond reproach.


I don’t usually post press releases, and this “news” has been out there for a couple of weeks, but I’m about to review this whisky, so I thought I’d put this info up for easy reference…

Press Release


9 May 2012

Glenfarclas launches limited edition single malt – the oldest whisky in its history

The Glenfarclas distillery has launched a 58-year-old whisky – the oldest spirit ever to leave its walls. Only 400 numbered single cask bottles will be put on the market.

The single cask whisky launched by Glenfarclas is the oldest spirit released so far by the distillery. The privilege of exclusive access to the distillery’s rarest and oldest stock, the remaining 4 casks distilled in 1953, were given by George Grant, of Glenfarclas to a panel comprised of Serge Valentin, a whisky connoisseur and a key member of the internationally renowned Malt Maniacs, Ben Ellefsen, Sales Director for Master of Malt (Whisky Magazine’s ‘Global Online Retailer of the Year’ 2012), Michał Kowalski of Wealth Solutions and George Grant himself. The panel was unanimous in their selection, and cask #1674 was selected to be bottled.

The carefully chosen cask began its life in Spain, where it was used to mature and then transport fine sherry to Scotland. It was bought by Glenfarclas and filled with whisky on 20 November 1953. After 58 years of slow maturation in Glenfarclas’ traditional Highland Dunnage warehouses, the 1953 cask yielded only 400 full 70 cl bottles. The whisky was bottled at cask strength of 47.2% abv and, of course, is naturally coloured and non-chill filtered.

Layer upon layer of flavour. A splendid old whisky; still lively, and not displaying any woodiness. Much influenced by the American oak cask, but wholly beneficially. Best enjoyed unreduced. Cheerful and friendly at natural strength, said Charles MacLean, a writer and whisky connoisseur, summarising his appraisal of the spirit. This exceptional whisky deserves a special setting. Each bottle is accompanied by a special book written by Ian Buxton, a well-known Scotch whisky enthusiast and writer, the author of the official history of the Glenfarclas distillery entitled Glenfarclas – An Independent Distillery. The whole set is enclosed in a plain oak box.

This limited edition Glenfarclas whisky has been selected specially for customers of Wealth Solutions, a company providing products for the most demanding Polish collectors and investors. We are very excited to offer one of the oldest casks of whisky which we have in Glenfarclas to Polish whisky lovers. It’s fantastic to see so many Polish people interested in such an old and rare whisky, said George Grant, Brand Ambassador at Glenfarclas. It is a real honour for us to offer our customers the ability of purchasing that exceptional whisky. So far, our offer has met with their huge interest, said Michał Kowalski, Vice President of Wealth Solutions.


This post begins with me in the Whyte & Mackay sample room, with Richard Paterson having just joined myself and Craig McGill. From my previous post on visiting the Whyte & Mackay office:

After stuffing as many sample bottles as possible into my pants pockets [no, of course not], Richard Paterson came through the door in his dark suit and bright pink tie, and the room came to life. If you’ve seen him in videos, he had that same high energy level that either sucks you in, or puts you on the defensive…like you’ve walked onto the set of a Billy Mays OxiClean info-mercial. I’m a fan of The Nose, so I let myself get sucked in, as it’s all in the spirit of fun and whisky appreciation.

The Nose entered the room and asked what our intentions were for this visit. Craig spoke up, mentioned that I’m a whisky fan and blogger, and suggested that a tour of the sample room, and perhaps a small dram would be nice. That sounded great to me! I felt a little guilty about even being there. It’s not like I’m “proper press” or an industry insider, so any time that an obviously very busy Whisky Legend was willing to spend with me was going to be much appreciated.

Watch your step in the W&M Sample Room!

Hello, How Are You, Quite Well…

Tasting whisky the “The Nose” way is no secret, and certainly wasn’t new to me. Search for Richard Paterson on YouTube and you’ll find a number of videos showing his unique approach to getting people past the high alcohol content of spirits in order to appreciate the true flavors underneath:

Well, on this day, I got to enjoy the experience first hand, and I was happy to walk through the process I’d seen and mimicked many times before. I even learned something new in the process…

Mr. Paterson’s flare from the videos is not reserved strictly for large audiences and TV cameras. That’s just the way he is! I got the full experience, starting with his pouring a small dram into a glass, swirling it around and then throwing it on the floor. In this case, it happened to be with a $180/bottle Dalmore!

Then he walked me through the nosing process, lifting the glass up to the nose and pulling it away 4 times in order to “get to know” the whisky. You lift it up and say “Hello”, then pull the glass away and bring it back up…”How are you?”…”Quite well”…”Thank you very much.”

What I actually got to taste

What I originally thought would be a taste of a single standard bottling turned into an amazing flight of whiskies! The “warm-up” dram provided by Mr. Paterson was actually the Dalmore King Alexander III! A very nice whisky, though not something that jumped out at me as being head-and-shoulders above a more standard (and less expensive) Dalmore like the 15 year.

Next up was a special treat in its own right. A 30 year old bespoke sherry (Matusalem?), used to treat the casks of some of the “special” Dalmore releases. Wow! I had just recently stated on Twitter that I was not a fan of Sherry, even though I love whiskies aged in sherry casks, but this sweet dram was nothing like the more inexpensive and younger sherries at the local wine store. Not cloying at all, it contained many of the ripe red fruit and cherry flavors that I love in sherry cask whiskies.

With that intro to good sherry, The Nose returned to the sample counter and shielded me from the bottle he was using to pour the next dram. More on that below. The final dram was none other than one of my favorites…the Dalmore Mackenzie special release. But back to the “secret” dram that followed the 30 year sherry…

The 1868 Dalmore is in there somewhere.

Tasting an 1868 Dalmore

The Nose was very coy about what I was about to taste. But he wanted to walk me though the process of nosing and then tasting it. This was a smaller dram than the previous two. It was clearly something special. Was I actually getting to try a 40+ year old Dalmore (one of my Bucket List items)?!

There were big, big espresso coffee notes on the nose, with chocolate. Some over-ripe red fruits as well. But it was the coffee notes that stood out to me. I’d never experienced that flavor in such a strong way on the nose of a whisky. It was absolutely amazing. I could have just sat there and nosed that glass forever. At this point, The Nose revealed that what I had in my glass was Dalmore from 1868! I wonder if my face went flush. I couldn’t believe he was letting me taste this!

On to the actual tasting, this is where Mr. Paterson tortured me a bit. He had me take a very small sip and hold it on top of my tongue while he proceeded to count and talk to me FOREVER! “Hold it, hold it, don’t swallow…” All the while, I’m failing to keep the liquid completely on the top of my tongue. It’s slowly leaking down the sides/back of my tongue into my throat. I sneak small swallows hoping he doesn’t notice. “Ok, now put it under your tongue and hold it there…” I complied the best I could, though most of the small dram had already snuck down my throat. “Now back up on top again…and swallow.” I asked if he expected me to do this with every sip I took. The answer was no – once you’ve acclimated your tongue, feel free to proceed in a more casual manner. 🙂

I had already tasted some “older” sherry-cask whiskies (The Last Drop and Classic Cask 35 Year), so I had a good idea what to expect when this old Dalmore hit my mouth. It was going to be very woody, bourbon-like, and so dry my tongue would feel like it was shriveling up. Wrong! This was a very fresh, active, acidic, juice-like experience, full of seville oranges. Speaking of which, go take a sip of orange juice, hold it on your tongue, and let it roll over the sides and down the back of our tongue. The tingling sensation from the 1868 Dalmore was like that. It was almost an over-the-top acidic experience, actually. Certainly not boring! I also recognized some flavors from the Sherry we had just tried.

After that initial nosing and tasting of the small sip of Dalmore 1868, The Nose gave me a bite of Dark Chocolate to tie all of the flavors together and complete the experience. Actually, he said the ideal experience would include a coffee and/or cigar if I recall correctly. Kind of like a well chosen multi-course meal.

I can’t help but wonder if part of the magic of these old Dalmores is that Mr. Paterson flirts with the boundaries of what is allowed in proper seasoning of the casks with sherry. Certainly, he has gone to great lengths to choose the RIGHT sherry to season his finishing casks on these best of the best Dalmores. Whatever the secret is, I would never have imagined the flavor on the palate was coming from the same liquid that produced that coffee nose. But once I had swallowed and taken a deep breath, there was that coffee and chocolate again. A magical transformation!


Wow! Guided through an amazing whisky tasting by an amazing whisky legend. What an experience! The 1868 Dalmore truly was incredible. It smelled like no whisky I had nosed before. It tasted like no whisky that had previously touched my lips. Quite an education for the senses. Mr. Paterson said this was one of the “components” of the very expensive Dalmores that have been released in recent times. This makes sense. The individual elements of taste and smell were incredibly unique, but not necessarily the most balanced overall whisky experience I’ve had. I’m sure this is where The Nose works his blending magic on the official releases…finding the right balance of 1868 and other vintages to produce a dazzling final result.

Thank you Craig McGill for adding this unforgettable experience to my trip! And thank you Richard Paterson for not only fitting me into your busy schedule, but for sharing such a rare piece of history with an ordinary guy like myself.

Up Next

This wasn’t actually the FULL Richard Paterson experience (or Craig McGill experience), but I’ve written enough in this blog post. I’ll post another with some final details from my Whyte & Mackay visit, and my theory on which casks that 1868 sample came from. Also, some thoughts on super-premium whiskies vs. more standard bottlings from the perspective of a middle class enthusiast.

Cheers, Jeff


I was going to post Part 2 of my Whyte & Mackay office visit today, but I just tried one of the samples I came home with from my trip, and it blew my mind, compelling me to share my thoughts while they’re fresh. I don’t mean that it blew my mind because it’s the greatest whisky I’ve ever tried (though it’s very good). Rather, it simply turned my pre-existing notion of the Jura flavor profile upside down.

Tasting Notes

Isle of Jura 1976 “Feith A’ Chaorainn”; 35 Yr; 46%

Jura 1976

I stuck the sample bottle up to my nose to see what flavors hit me first. I was immediately surprised by a light peat presence that reminded me of an old Talisker or Caol Ila. Hmm…nothing at all like any Jura I’ve ever tried. I’ve learned, though, that the way scents are pushed through tiny sample bottle openings can be very misleading. Let’s pour some into a glass…

Whoa! Upon first pouring the sample into a glass and taking a few whiffs to introduce myself, I was smacked upside the nose and through the sinus with overpowering oak. Let’s allow the sawdust to settle and revisit in 5-10 minutes…

Ok, here we go. There is definitely a strong oak presence leading the way on the nose. American/bourbon oak…not a hint of sherry cask scents to be found. The direct oak gives way to other oak-related flavors – first vanilla, then right past the vanilla to full-on butterscotch. I’m also getting some grass or barley, and a hint of citrus. Funny, I just barely notice the ashy smoke that hit me out of the sample bottle.

On the palate, the oak parade continues. It’s very dry, but not to the point of feeling like your tongue is completely shriveling up. The grass and barley come more to the fore, overcoming some of that strong butterscotch sweetness on the nose. As it hits the back of the palate, I get a mild tropical fruit sensation.

More oak grips the tongue on the fairly long finish. As the tropical fruit leaves the nostrils, it’s replaced by subtle ashy smoke and malt, and a hint of citrus again. As with my initial whiff from the sample bottle, I’m once again reminded of old Caol Ila. If you’re familiar with the standard Caol Ila bottlings, I’m talking more of a CI 18 profile than CI 12.

This is a strong B+ for me, perhaps A- if I had more time to spend with it.


Wow! Not what I expected. Most of the flavors, except the oak, are fairly subtle, but it’s fun to tease out the complexity. This is a very elegant expression. It strikes me as landing somewhere in between my bottle of Cragganmore 40 year (G&M Secret Stills 2.2) and what I would imagine a 35 year old Caol Ila tasting like. If I had $600 burning a hole in my pocket, would I buy a bottle? Well, no…I’d buy a bottle of Highland Park 30 and Talisker 30. But if I had several thousand spare dollars, I’d love to get a bottle of this, take it to a local whisky club tasting, and watch them all guess the distillery incorrectly. 🙂

Cheers, Jeff


I recently passed through Glasgow for a couple of days, and made arrangements to meet up with Craig McGill for drinks on my first afternoon. He does digital PR work for Whyte & Mackay. At the last minute, he contacted me and let me know that if I could head straight from my arrival at Glasgow Airport to the W&M office, I might be able to meet with Richard Paterson (aka “The Nose“), famous Whisky Ambassador and Master Blender for Whyte & Mackay, for a few minutes in his Sample Room. Challenge accepted!

The Whyte & Mackay Office

Located a short walk from Central Station in downtown Glasgow, the Whyte & Mackay office is a modern, shiny high rise building located next door to a Gothic style cathedral built in 1904. I met Craig on the ground floor, and he took me up 8 floors to where Richard Paterson’s playground, er…sample room, is located. We were a little early, but went straight past the quiet reception desk to the blending room to wait for Mr. Paterson. The room looks to be around 20′ x 25′ in size, with cabinets running the length of the long walls. On top of the cabinets were hundreds of sample bottles and dozens of tasting glasses (all business). In the middle of the room was a large table with commercial bottlings on display, and a small replica of a still (all show). Above the cabinets and sample bottles were cupboards filled with old whisky bottles (museum-like).

Just another day at the office for The Nose

Some old bottles...and a Mackinlay replica?

It was extremely quiet and clean, with a mellow vibe. Show pieces aside, I felt like I was standing in a medical lab. I stood in the middle of the room afraid to touch anything on the side cabinets, or see anything I wasn’t supposed to. Craig walked over to the cabinet on the right side of the room, nonchalantly reached over a bunch of samples and plugged his phone in to charge. He was obviously comfortable in here, so I asked if it was ok to look around. “Sure, go right ahead!”

That’s when Richard’s assistant [of over 30 years!] Margaret entered the room, grabbed a bunch of used tasting glasses from the cabinet on the left wall and put them into an industrial washer in the front corner of the room. As I started to check out the bottles on display, and sneak a peak at the labels on some of the sample bottles, she proceeded to place 20 clean tasting glasses out on the other cabinet in front of a set of sample bottles from Invergordon (photo above), and then poured the samples into the glasses. I guess this was to be Mr. Paterson’s afternoon work…checking to see how 20 barrels from the warehouse were coming along. About that time, I worked my way to the far end of the left wall and became aware of the labels on some of the sample bottles there (photo below). My heart jumped up in my throat…Dalmore 30 Yr, Dalmore 40 Yr, Dalmore 1951, Dalmore *1926*…just sitting there in front of me!

Some very old, very rare samples!

Enter “The Nose”

After stuffing as many sample bottles as possible into my pants pockets [no, of course not], Richard Paterson came through the door in his dark suit and bright pink tie, and the room came to life. If you’ve seen him in videos, he had that same high energy level that either sucks you in, or puts you on the defensive…like you’ve walked onto the set of a Billy Mays OxiClean info-mercial. I’m a fan of The Nose, so I let myself get sucked in, as it’s all in the spirit of fun and whisky appreciation.

In my next post, the “Richard Paterson Experience”…


Disclaimer: I’m doing another review of a free sample. I don’t feel any obligation to write good things about it, but full disclosure and all…This one is  from ImpEx Beverages, who imports Chieftain’s, Kilchoman, Smokehead, Isle of Skye, and Arran. Many thanks to them for the sample!

Ah, Mortlach…so hard to come by here in the United States, as there is only one official distillery bottling (16 Year Flora & Fauna), and it’s not imported here. Most of the whisky distilled at Mortlach goes into blends, most famously Johnnie Walker Black. Apparently the bold flavor provided by their unique “partial triple distillation” is highly prized by the blenders. This single-cask expression was matured in a sherry butt, and it was bottled at a hefty 55.2% ABV. I’m comparing it directly with two previously reviewed Tomatins, as this Mortlach immediately reminded me of those.

Chieftain's Mortlach 15 in fancy "coffin" box

Tasting Notes

[Mortlach 15 Batch #7281, Chieftains, 1995/2011, 55.2%, $100, 625 bottles]

I took a whiff right out of the sample bottle and it seemed hugely fruity with dried fruits and red berries. Right up my alley!

In the glass, the nose changed quite a bit. Now, a sweet barley/malt leads the way, followed by dried fruits, but not so much the fresh red berries. Another whiff and I get some baked apples as well, along with something slightly vegetal (is that a word?). Some minor baking spices probably coming from the cask, but no wood shavings or strong vanilla on this one. Finally, imagine there’s a honey-cured ham cooking in the kitchen and you’re in another room. The aroma is just starting to reach you, but hasn’t taken over the room yet. It’s like a whole meal in a glass!

At 55.2%, there is a strong delivery on the palate, but it’s not overly hot. Big, big, malt and apple juice, similar to the MoM 19 Year Tomatin. As it works its way down, a hint of smoke lifts some dried fruit back up into the nostrils, and vague wood spices hang onto the tongue, still overshadowed by the malt. Drying, but not overly so, with a medium-long finish.

Mortlach 15 Label


More please! This is a highly enjoyable Speyside whisky and a great U.S. representative for the Mortlach distillery. While the big malt presence reminded me of the 18 and 19 year Tomatins that I like so much, there is even more malt here, and definitely less wood influence. I suppose the four fewer years in casks would contribute to that (and this might be a refill butt), but I also get the feeling that the distillate is stronger coming off the Mortlach stills than what Tomatin starts with. There’s definitely something unique about the Mortlach flavor. I’m intrigued and want to try more expressions from this distillery.  It would be really interesting to taste a 20 year old Mortlach, where I would expect the additional time in casks to result in a balance that would knock my socks off!

Jim Murray seems to think Mortlach creates a second-rate spirit, sometimes saved by good cask use. I haven’t seen much love for Mortlach over at Whiskyfun.com, either. The slight vegetal presence, and hint of baked ham is different from other Speysides I’ve tried, and I found the overall experience quite endearing. Is this bottle worth $100? I’d like to see it about $25 cheaper, but the reality is that Mortlach is very rare as a single malt, and it’s going to cost $75-$80 to get a 43% bottling by Gordon & Macphail. In that context, this single cask Chieftain’s bottling seems pretty reasonable. I rate it very highly – about the same, maybe just slightly below the Tomatin 18 and MoM Tomatin Cask Strength 19 year. A B+ for sure (88 points). Maybe higher if I spent more time with it.



This year, I’m going to do something different for my gift guide post. It’s too late to have anything shipped in time for Christmas, but there’s plenty of time to stop by your local liquor store. I’m going to take a stab at answering a question I often get by email, or from friends:

My spouse/friend/relative likes Scotch, and I want to buy them something nice for Christmas. I know they really like [“Whisky X”], what do you recommend?

Ok, I’m not an expert, but I’ve tried enough whisky expressions in the last 3+ years to have an opinion on this. I’ll focus on whiskies I think will be available in many big box and/or specialty retailers in the U.S.

A little something for Santa...

If their go-to whisky is…

Johnnie Walker Black, try:

  • Johnnie Walker Double Black ($40+): A new “limited” release that I’m curious about myself. It costs twice as much as standard Black Label, so they might hesitate to purchase it themselves. A great reason to gift it!
  • The Glenlivet 18 ($50-$70): If you can get it in this price range, like I can here in AZ, it’s a great bargain. This is the first single malt I tried after tasting and liking JW Black, and it hooked me, so I figured I should mention it here. The new packaging makes it an even better gift.
  • Talisker 10 ($50) or 18 ($80): One of the components of JW Black, Talisker is a fantastic single malt. If the peat smoke is what draws them to Black Label over other blends, this will take it to the next level for them. Pretty bold flavors, so a moderate risk, but potentially high reward!
  • Highland Park 18 ($90-$100): If this is the price-point you’re looking for, forget Johnnie Walker Gold. This is one of the best all around single malts out there.

Chivas Regal 12, try:

  • Aberlour 12 ($30-$40) or 16 ($45-$55): My personal favorite “entry level” single malt from the Speyside region. I use this to hook whisky newbies. 🙂
  • Chivas Regal 18 ($55+): Much more flavorful than the 12 year, but certainly not a departure from the profile. Comes in a nice box, too.
  • Scapa 16 ($60+): Also owned by Chivas Bros, this is pure buttery smooth elegance in a bottle. Some balk at the price since it’s not the boldest whisky in the world, but that’s just another reason to give it to them as a gift. No guilt.
  • Longmorn 16 ($70+): Longmorn is one of the components of Chivas Regal, bringing a sharp intensity that the blends shy away from.

Balvenie DoubleWood, try:

  • Yamazaki 12 ($45): Ok, it’s not “Scotch”, as it’s from Japan, but now that they’ve familiarized themselves with American and European oak with the DoubleWood, introduce them to Japanese Mizunara Oak. Great stuff!
  • Bunnahabhain 12 (the newer 46.3% version; $45): As long as we’re talking about introducing them to something new…they may have tried other whiskies from the island of Islay and gotten scared off of the region. Surprise them with this minimally-peated bouquet of warm apple cobbler, cinnamon and malt.
  • Any of the 17 Year Balvenie special releases ($110-$120): Taking what they love about the entry-level Balvenie to the next level. Very high quality.

Macallan 12 (not the Fine Oak line), try:

  • Aberlour a’bunadh [a-boon-ah] ($50+): One of my favorites. This is, as they say in whisky circles, a “sherry bomb”. Sounds scary, but that’s ok, as your Macallan-drinking friend is already a fan of sherry cask matured Scotch. This is a very high proof cask-strength whisky, but if it’s too much for them, it holds up great when adding water. If they smoke cigars, have them try one with this as well.
  • Any Glendronach (12 $50, 15 $70, 18 $100+): Glendronach is special because it’s one of the few remaining independent distilleries. Find a local specialty shop and grab one of these expressions as a special treat.

Laphroaig 10 Year, try:

  • Laphroaig Triple Wood ($55+): New to the U.S., there’s a good chance they haven’t  tried it yet. They might also be conflicted about buying this vs. one they KNOW they love, like the Laphroaig Quarter Cask. Save them the trouble of choosing and buy them a bottle.
  • Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength ($50+): They might have avoided this one because of the high proof, figuring it was just a stronger version of the standard 10 year, but it’s much more flavorful.
  • Lagavulin 16 ($65-$95): Mmm…Lagavulin. We already know they like peat, smoke and medicinal qualities in their whisky. If they don’t love this amazing Islay classic, they should. Maybe they just need to drink more of it, so get them a bottle.
  • Lagavulin 12 ($70-$150): As great as the 16 is, it’s readily available. The 12 year is amazing in a bigger, bolder way, and is a limited release. If you see it on the shelf, grab it! [Unless they’re charging $150 like BevMo in AZ]

Premium whiskies

Looking to spend $125 plus? Try one of these:

  • Macallan 18 Sherry Cask ($125 – $150): Considered overpriced by some, it’s still a great whisky. A nice gift because they can enjoy it without feeling the guilt of over paying. I’m due for a new bottle of this myself. Any volunteers?
  • Balvenie Port Wood 21 Year ($150-$170): The definition of “dangerously drinkable”?  Even fans of “big” whiskies should be able to appreciate this sweet, juicy malt. An “occasional” drinker might think it’s the best thing ever.
  • Mackinlay’s “Shackleton” Rare Old Highland Whisky ($150+): Ok, this is only available in limited markets, but if you see it, it’s an amazing gift…a taste of what whisky was like over 100 years ago.
  • Glenlivet 25 Year ($250-$300): Great whisky, great bottle presentation, great gift.
  • Highland Park or Talisker 30 Year Olds ($300-$400): For a true Scotch lover. In return, you’ll have good karma for life.
  • Johnny Walker Blue ($150-$225): Sure, why not? If they’re just a sometimes scotch drinker, they’ll love how smooth it is, and they probably associate this expression with high quality. A whisky aficionado might be less impressed with the liquid inside (at least when their whisky club friends are looking), but would still appreciate the thought and have fun sharing it with you.

Happy Holidays, Jeff


I’m really lucky to have gotten a bottle of the new Redbreast 12 Cask Strength from Irish Distilers Limited a while back. Thanks, James! It should be coming to the U.S. in early 2012. Now that I’m over half way through the bottle, I should probably write up some notes. 🙂

This Redbreast is a “Pure Pot Still” Irish whiskey, matured in a combination of sherry and bourbon casks (probably more bourbon than sherry). Fortunately, rather than explain this term myself, I can just point you to the new post on The Whisky Exchange Blog that tells you all you ever wanted to know (and possibly more) about pure pot still whiskey: Midleton Distillery Trip: Single Pot Still Irish Whiskeys Pt.1. Enjoy!

Tasting Notes

Redbreast 12 Cask Strength; Batch B1/11; 57.7%

The “official” tasting notes for this whiskey talk of a fruit explosion on the nose, and I’ve read others describe it similarly. I must say, I have a different impression. To me, it’s more of a wood explosion. Yes, the nose offers up dried fruits, apple, and a hint of banana. However, to me at least, it’s wood-based scents that really hit you over the head. Cedar wood chips and heavy vanilla, primarily. The higher alcohol content seems to thrust the woody notes right down your nostrils. Add a little water and the vanilla turns more to butterscotch, reminding me of Ponderosa Pine sap.

The nose is very nice, but the palate is where Redbreast 12 CS really shines. It starts out sweet and juicy, then those wood spices hit, gripping your tongue, aided by a drying sensation. What an amazing feeling in the mouth! The 57.5% isn’t overwhelming, either. It’s strong, but it feels right. Even more amazing, you can water it down a little and the spice and tingling stay there, further enforcing that it’s not just the alcohol content doing all of the work.

The finish brings back some of the dried fruit, which is nice, while introducing a combination of malt and grain. The grain lingers on the tongue as an after-taste.


This is NOT just the standard Redbreast 12 year (which I often recommend to newbies as an “accessible” whisk(e)y”) cranked up to 11. At first, I was a little disappointed by the 12 CS, as I braced myself for the aforementioned fruit explosion. I tried it side-by-side with a number of Speyside whiskies, and the Redbreast paled by fruity comparison to all of them.

Once I got over that pre-set expectation, though, I came back again and again for the unique, gripping experience experience on the palate. Also, if you’re in the mood for vanilla and wood on the nose, few will top this one. A very good nose, GREAT palate, and good finish, the whole is well above average for me, and definitely worth a spot in the cupboard. B+ (88 Points).

Cheers, Jeff


MoM Movember Glenfarclas

We interupt this not so regularly scheduled blog to bring you an exciting breaking development in the whisky world. Well, it’s a breaking development for me, anyway. This weekend, I received a surprise sample in the mail from the folks at Master of Malt. It was the new Movember bottling – an expression produced by a partnership between Glenfarclas and Master of Malt. According to the literature I received, this is a vatting of two Oloroso sherry hogshead casks, matured for 9 years. 10 casks were picked out by George Grant, Sales Director at Glenfarclas, with the final two casks chosen by Master of Malt. It’s bottled at 53%.

For every Movember bottling sold at £39.95, £10.00 will be donated to Movember. Sounds great, but how is the whisky?

Tasting Notes

Glenfarclas – Movember 2011; 53%; £39.95

Nose: Super clean sherry in the form of ripe red fruits. Just amazingly juicy, with a little bit of cooking spice, a hint of oak, and no sign of sulfur. Wow!
Palate: Still juicy, and also fairly sweet, with a pretty big impact at first, but dropping off to more of a medium impact by mid-palate. The alcohol is well controlled, with no need to water it down.
Finish: The red fruits continue right on through to the end, lingering for a medium duration in the back of the nostrils. It’s sweet with a little oak spice on the tongue. However, the taste drops off fairly quickly, leaving just a hint of oak to go with the fruit in the nostrils.


I could sit with a glass of this and take in the aromas all night long! Sure, the finish could be a little bigger, but that doesn’t spoil the overall experience. The amazingly clean, juicy nose reminds me of my favorite Aberlour a’bunadh batches (#23 and #26). It’s a little more fruity and a little less oaky than those two, and the finish is bigger on the Aberlours, but oh, that clean sherry nose! It’s a refreshing change from the heavier Macallan-like nose often found in big sherry whiskies. I’m very comfortable giving this a personal rating in the 88-89 range. A solid B+.


If you love a big sherry, fruity nose on your whisky, you should enjoy this young Glenfarclas. If strong impact from palate through finish is all that matters to you, it’s possible you’ll be left wanting for more. For me, a sherry nose this clean is hard enough to find that I want to grab onto a bottling like the Movember Glenfarclas when I get the chance. After prying my nose away from the glass, following my first taste of this sample, I jumped on my laptop and ordered two bottles. I’m putting my money (well, credit card and ensuing interest charges) where my mouth is on this one.