Archive for November, 2009


Continuing on my tasting journey through the Diageo 2009 Special Release samples that I got from whiskysamples.eu, I decided to compare the 25 and 30 year Taliskers to my bottle of Talisker 18 year. Talisker 18 has been one of my favorite whiskies for under $100, along with other great expressions such as Highland Park 18, several Laphroaigs, and Lagavulin 16.

I’ve been very curious about the older Taliskers, but at $200 to $350 for a full bottle, that wasn’t going to happen any time soon. That’s why I love the concept of whisky sample services such as the one offered by whiskysamples. It wasn’t cheap…I payed around $80 for my 7 samples, but I’m getting to try several whiskies that go for $200 – $400 per bottle.

I forgot to take a picture of the 25 and 30 year olds in a glass, but the color is not appreciably different than the Talisker 18.

Three Taliskers

Tasting Notes

Talisker 18

According to the Oddbins website, Talisker 18 is aged in a combination of American and European oak refill casks, but I can’t find anything official to confirm. This standard expression is bottled at 45.8% ABV, and I think they made a very wise decision not to go with 40 or 43%. When the Talisker 18 could be found on the shelves here in AZ, it went for $70. However, it disappeared in the Spring and hasn’t come back. Fortunately, I have a couple of backup bottles to tide me over.

Nose: Toffee sweets up front are immediately replaced by earthy peat, light smoke and fresh oak. There is also a mild medicinal quality to it. Then vanilla, and finally a little lemon citrus.
Palate: Sweet at first, with a nice full mouth feel, you can taste that earthy peat, too. Then pepper starts to build and gets reasonably strong, if not as big as the 10 year.
Finish: Continued pepper on the tongue lasts quite a while, and the smoky peat comes up into the back of the nostrils, also lasting a long time. Actually, the earthy peat sticks on the tongue as well. Excellent!

Comments: This is one of my favorite semi-regular whiskies. Great balance between sweets, pepper, peat and smoke. The peat on this is the closest I’ve found to sniffing a block of actual peat (as I got to do in Edinburgh at the Scotch Whisky Experience tour). There is some iodine, but none of the tar that you find in some Islays. Still, this is VERY close to an Islay profile. I rate this the same as Highland Park 18, but if I had to pick just one, it would be the Talisker by a peaty nose. Plus, at $70, it’s an amazing value. 90 points.

Talisker 25

This is a limited release of 5862 bottles. It’s aged in a combination of American and European oak refill casks, with the American oak presumably being from bourbon casks. I’m not sure what the ratio is between the cask types. Being 100% refill casks, the color is not particularly dark. It’s bottled at the natural cask strength of 54.8% ABV. Recommended price in the U.S. is $200.

Nose: Much more citrus than the 18 or 30, but not as much vanilla. A little more oak than the 18. A little furniture polish, perhaps from the higher alcohol. Not noticing the medicinal notes of the 18 as much, and the earthy peat is hiding behind the citrus. With a couple of drops of water, the citrus dies down and it’s more balanced, with the vanilla and peat being more noticeable.
Palate: Huge pepper hits you over the head, with sweetness and earthy peat behind it. Wow, that is some serious impact!
Finish: The pepper continues for a long time, and like the 18, the light smoke comes up through the nostrils and brings the earthy peat with it. The pepper is still huge.

Comments: This is the 18 year on steroids. It seems slightly less complex at full strength, but with just a few drops of water, it becomes very balanced like the 18 year while retaining some additional pepper kick. Without taking price into account, I would say that I prefer this just a little over the 18 because of the extra punch, which can be toned down as desired. 91 points.

Talisker 30

There are 3000 bottles of Talisker 30 year for 2009. It is matured in a combination of American Oak and European Oak refill casks, and has a golden color. This release is bottled at 53.1% abv, and has a recommended retail price of £215 (around $350 if it’s shipping to the U.S.).

Nose: Less citrus than the 25 year, and probably a little less peat. There is still a little more oak than the 18 year. The big difference with the 30 year is a rich vanilla component that stands out more than the other two. It’s creme brulee rich.
Palate: Soft at first, without the big pepper hit, but that rich vanilla is still there, giving a luxurious mouth feel. Just as you head into the finish, the pepper builds up like you would expect with a Talisker. It’s kind of cool the way it comes out of nowhere later in the drinking process.
Finish: The pepper continues to build, then levels off and stays for a long time, and of course there is the smoke and peat in the nostrils. The oak is still present, but not in any way overpowering. Unlike the 18 and 25 year expressions, there is absolutely no bitterness to the finish on this one (I get a very slight bitterness with the other two).

Comments: With the extra richness and utterly flawless finish, the 30 year steps up to “special” status, but just barely. It’s not like it’s leagues ahead of the other two. This is the third 30 year I’ve tried, and I’ve loved them all. I wouldn’t rate this one quite as high as the HP 30 or Laphroaig 30, though. 92 points.

Comparison and Value

The Highland Park line uses varying combinations of first fill and refill casks, along with different ratios of European and American oak to achieve differing profiles between expressions. With these Taliskers, the profiles all seem very similar, and I haven’t read anything to indicate that there are significant differences in the maturation process. The reason for taste differences seems to come down mostly to age and ABV.

I highly recommend all three of these Talisker expressions, and the 25 and 30 year certainly qualify as “special” releases. The Talisker 18 provides the base profile from which the older expressions build, and I don’t think you can go wrong with it (if you like peat). Get a bottle if you can find it. The 25 year provides the goodness of the 18 year in an explosive package. Finally, the 30 year just exudes class, begging to be sipped savored with its richness and sophistication.

I’ll keep an eye out for a sale on the Talisker 25 and grab it when the opportunity presents. As for the 30 year, while it does seem “special”, I’m putting it in line behind HP and Laphroaig on my super premium 30 year wish list. The 18 year is close enough in quality to satisfy my Talisker cravings right now, and it’s a bargain to boot.

Other Opinions

WhiskyNotes.be – One of my favorite sites for tasting notes, Ruben has fantastic notes and scores for all three of these expressions: Talisker 18, Talisker 25, Talisker 30.

Several bloggers attended a Diageo tasting of the whole Special Release lineup:

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Knob Creek commemorative barrel bung

Knob Creek barrel bung

Knob Creek has apparently closed out their Drought of 2009 marketing campaign, and they’ve done it in style. A bunch of Stillhouse members have reported receiving a package in the mail with a commemorative barrel bung to celebrate the resumption of Knob Creek bourbon bottling.  I just got mine today.

It comes in a box with the following text:

Dear Knob Creek Lover,

Thanks for being patient. After 9 long, rewarding years, your batch of 2000 Knob Creek Bourbon is ready to enjoy. In honor of this occasion, we’d like to share a commemorative 2000-2009 Knob Creek barrel bung.

Cheers! Your friends at Knob Creek

Now, I never actually saw any difference in availability on the shelves here in AZ, but it was still a fun campaign, and now i have my own barrel bung. That’s a pretty cool chotski for the ‘ol liquor cabinet. Perhaps they’ll send out the bourbon barrel that it goes with for Christmas, so hurry and get your Stillhouse membership. 🙂

Additional Pictures

The drought is over.

I survived the drought of 2009 and all I got was this bunghole.

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Mannochmore 18 Sample

Every fall, whisky connoisseurs look forward to Diageo’s annual Special Releases. These special, limited run bottlings come from a subset of Diageo’s active and closed distilleries. There are nine Cask Strength bottlings in this year’s release, and I ordered a set of 30ml samples from whiskysamples.eu that contains seven of these. The first one I’m sampling and writing about is an 18 year old from Speyside distillery Mannochmore, distilled in 1990.

Have you ever tried a Mannochmore single-malt before? Yeah, me neither. Ok…I guess there is a Flora & Fauna release, plus a few IBs, but there aren’t many expressions out there – especially in the United States. This bottling is especially interesting because of the way they have prepared it. It’s been aged using three different cask types:

  • Re-charred ex-sherry bodega European oak
  • Re-charred ex-bourbon barrels
  • New American oak casks that previously held sherry

Bottled at 54.9%, this is a limited release of 2,604 bottles, and sells for a recommended 105 GBP. Unfortunately, this one is not being shipped to the United States.

Tasting notes

Mannochmore 1990, 18 year, OB, 54.9%

Nose: Lots of spice, oak and vanilla, plus some toffee sweetness and dried fruits…very boubon-like. On first nosing, it’s a little “hot”, with some furniture polish notes due to high abv. That goes away after getting adjusted to it. As I continue to nose it, there’s HUGE vanilla, with apples coming through as well.
Palate: Sweet fruits and cinnamon spice. Maybe a hint of walnut. Starts hot at full strength, but pretty easy to drink still.
Finish: More spices, the oak comes back, and it’s a bit malty. Maybe some apple skins, too. This is a pretty long lasting Speyside malt!

Comments: Before I had even read about the re-charred casks, I opened up the sample bottle, took a whiff and thought…Bourbon! Except on continued nosing, the fruits are lighter, with Speyside apples/pears coming through. Still, this is the closest I’ve ever experienced to a Speyside bourbon (Spourbon?). It’s quite complex on the nose, has pleasant spices to keep things interesting on the tongue, and the finish is pretty long. I like it! That being said, it doesn’t have nearly as much going on in the mouth as my 1989 Macallan 18 (bottled at 43%). I can imagine the rating inching up if I had more time to spend with it, but based on my 30ml sample, I’d tentatively rate Mannachmore 18 at 88/89 points (B+).

At around $100 (or maybe even $125 based on the rarity of Mannochmore), I’d consider buying a full bottle. However, at $150 plus overseas shipping, I’m not quite ready to pull the trigger. Somebody want to send me a bigger sample to see if I change my mind? 🙂

Other opinions

Several bloggers attended a Diageo tasting of the whole Special Release lineup:

Additionally, Ruben over at WhiskyNotes.be provided his own stand-alone review of this Mannochmore. He really liked it and bought a bottle.

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This is part 2 of my look at the Highland Park core expressions. In Part 1, I shared some details about how HP creates their whisky, and compared the 12, 15 and 18 year offerings. In this post, I will continue with the 21, 25 and 30 year expressions, for which I ordered a 50ml sample of each. The only core expressions I’m leaving out of these posts are the 16 year and 40 year. I might be getting a sample of the 16 soon, though.

Three HPs

Highland Park 21, 25 and 30

Highland Park 21 (47.5% abv; $100-$120?)

Bottle Stamp: L0886H 22:10

The 21 year was released in 2007, exclusive to travel retail and duty-free. The 21 year is based on the DNA of the HP 1977 Bicentenary (singlemalt.tv video link) special release, with an emphasis on refill sherry casks. This is supposed to bring out more smoke. There is also a “slight emphasis” on American oak (from the April 2008 HP newsletter), but I don’t know what the percentage is. While the 1977 Bicentenary release was bottled at 40% (43% in the U.S.), this new one was released at 47.5%. However, this past year, Highland Park announced a shortage of casks for the 21 year, so they are now bottling it at 40%. If you see the 47.5% version, get it!

Nose: Take the 15 year and add raspberry to the lime on the nose, plus additional smoke and oak. However, the smoke seems to subdue the citrus relative to the 15.
Palate: Initial sweetness, then intense citrus on the palate. The extra 4.5% abv over the younger expressions really does seem to add impact as the liquid moves from the front to the middle of the mouth.
Finish: Smoke and citrus hit the back of the nostrils hard on the finish, but then dissipate quickly, leaving a medium smoke for a reasonably long time.
Comments:I kept wanting to compare this to the HP 15 43% expression. It really does seem to have a similar underlying profile, but with a purposeful infusion of smoke, and an impact on the palate that makes you want to sip and enjoy. The 15 year, meanwhile, doesn’t offer much of a challenge to the palate, but it’s extremely (dangerously) drinkable. Compared to the HP 18, I felt that this 21 year was less complex, but certainly offers more of a punch. It’s a trade-off between complexity/balance and smoke/impact. I call it a tie at 90 points.

Highland Park 25 (48.1% abv; $250-$275)

Bottle Stamp: L0914G 13:11

Highland Park introduced the 25 year in 1998, a year after the 18 year was released. The 25 year extends a pattern with the 12 and 18 year bottlings, with a focus on European oak, and an increase in the use of first fill casks with each successive release. The 15, 21 and 30 year (all introduced later) all break from this pattern in some way. Bottled with 50% first fill sherry casks, the HP 25 is the darkest whisky in the lineup (HP does not use caramel coloring in any of their releases). This high proportion of first fill sherry casks is also intended to provide a very sweet experience (the sweetest in the lineup).

Nose: We’re back to the dried fruits, figs and berries of the 18. However, it seems a little muted in comparison, and it’s more fig than berry. Not particularly smoky.
Palate: It starts a little flat and dull, then explodes with smoke and pepper at the back of the palate and into the finish. Only the fig remains of the fruits.
Finish: Big hit of smoke and dried fruit, but for me, it subsided much more quickly than I expected and turned a bit flat.
Comments: This is an excellent whisky, but I’m a little disappointed. I’ve seen a number of whisky enthusiasts expressing a preference for the 25 year over the 30, and at $200 less, that makes for the kind of “bargain” that I love (granted, we’re still in super premium range). However, the nose never seems to blossom with this one. It’s got nice impact on the palate, but the pleasure is fleeting, and to me, it lacks the complexity I was seeking in a 25 year HP. 89 points.

Highland Park 30 (48.1% abv; $450)

Bottle Stamp L 0999G 23:11

The 30 year was just introduced in 2005 as a regular release. The maturation “recipe”, if you will, for the 30 year differs significantly from the 25. In this one, only refill casks are used. 25% of them are American sherry oak, and the other 75% are European sherry oak. As mentioned with the 21 year, the focus on refill casks is intended to bring the smoke more to the fore, in order to balance the heavier sweetness that comes from the long period in European oak casks.

Nose: Rich toffee sweets turn to dried fruits, then it blossoms into fresh berries and kiwi. There is a light to medium smokiness. Surprisingly subtle oak given the age.
Palate: More fruit and sweets up front, then turns peppery approaching the finish. My tongue is all a-tingle.
Finish: This one just goes on and on, with lingering pepper on the tongue and fruity smoke dancing in the nostrils.
Comments: The 30 year is everything I hoped the 25 would be. Looking at other reviews now, I see mention of orange and chocolate for the 30 year, which I equate to the combination of American and European oak. However, my own sensory interpretation of this one is that the American oak takes the fig and dried fruit from the European oak and turns it into fresh berries. It reminds me of the fruitiness that comes from my all time favorite Laphroaig 30. I’m tempted to rate them as equals, with the HP 30 providing more impact in the mouth than the Laphroaig, but the Laphroaig 30 having a magical nose that I haven’t found the equal of yet. If I had to pick just one, it would be the Laphroaig. Let’s say 92.5 points.

Big HP, little HP

The three expressions in my Part 1 post were all bottled at 43%, while the three discussed in this post are in the 47-48% range. The additional abv definitely makes a difference in palate impact, and that seems to carry through to the finish.

When comparing the full lineup, I think it’s easy to get drawn into the impact of the higher abv (big) releases and suddenly find the younger (little) ones feeling weak and less satisfying. I urge caution when taking this approach.

For example, when I tasted the HP 18 immediately after the HP 30 (with some water in between), I had momentary doubts about my professed love for the 18 year expression. Should I really rate it as close to the 30 as I did, even with the obvious difference in mouth impact and smoke? However, when I pull out the 18 year and evaluate it on its own, the doubts disappear. It’s a fabulous, complex, well balanced whisky.


I’m thoroughly impressed with the whole HP line. Having learned a little bit about the way they use their casks in the maturation process, I’m also in awe of their blenders. I’ll feel very “safe” purchasing new expressions from this distillery (like the upcoming Earl Magnus 15 yr. cask strength). As for the six expressions from these two posts…

The HP 12 is a fantastic value at around $35, but as long as I can afford it, I’ll opt for a combination of HP 15 and HP 18 in my cabinet for regular Highland Park cravings. I love the lime and sheer drinkability of my 43% U.S. bottling of the 15 year, but not sure what to think of the 40% version based on my 50ml sample experience. If I could get my hands on the 47.5% 21 year, that would be a no brainer, too, but I’d like to sample the new 40% bottling first. In the super premium category, if I came up with $250+ to spend on an HP (not this year), I’d mail order a 30 year from the U.K. for about the same price as the 25 year goes for here in the States.

Finally, it’s the 18 year and 30 year expressions that stood out the most to me. I totally get it if some people feel the 18 doesn’t have quite enough smoke, or impact in the mouth, but I think that’s overlooking the amazing complexity and balance of that dram. Deciding between the 18 year and 21 year kind of feels like choosing between a luxury sedan and a sports car. Now, the HP 30…that’s a freaking Porche Panamera. Luxurious accommodations, but still does 0-60 in 3.3 and pulls 0.92g on the skid pad. The Highland Park 30 looks better than the Panamera, though. 🙂

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I haven’t had the opportunity to attend a Highland Park tasting event, but I did notice that they bottle miniatures of most of their lineup, so I decided to buy some of those and do an HP comparison in the comfort of my own home. I already owned full size bottles of HP 12 and 18, so I purchased miniatures of the 15, 21, 25 and 30. Later, I discovered that the UK bottling of the 15 year (and the 12 year for that matter) are at 40% vs. the U.S. 43% version, so I ended up buying a full size bottle of HP 15 locally for the comparison.

Highland Park lineup

In this post, I’ll share my tasting notes and thoughts on the 12, 15 and 18 year bottlings. I’ll then post a “Part 2” to compare the 21, 25 and 3o year, and discuss how those older, higher proofed bottlings relate to these first three. I’m leaving out the 16 year duty-free and 40 year bottlings from this comparison, as I wasn’t able to find miniatures of those two.

The Highland Park whisky making process

Highland Park seems to be known for its sweetness up front, which turns to drying and a light smoke at the end. The smoke comes from the use of some peated barley. The peat itself comes from Orkney, and the fact that it’s formed from the heathery moorland supposedly results in adding a honey sweetness to the barley, in addition to the smoke.

Assuming that they always start with the same basic spirit, coming from the same stills, I was curious as to what components go into the “recipe” for creating the individual HP expressions besides the length of maturation:

  • Cask type: HP uses only sherry casks in the making of their whisky, but they use a combination of Spanish and American oak casks. The Spanish oak contributes dried fruit flavors, while the American oak provides vanilla and citrus notes.
  • Refill cask ratio: They use varying combinations of first fill and refill sherry casks, with the ratio between these two being used for color consistency as well (they don’t caramel color their whisky).
  • Cask Harmonization: Each batch of whisky, after a primary maturation period in different types of casks, is vatted together, and then returned to casks for six or more months of additional maturation. The older HP expressions are “harmonized” for longer periods. This process adds consistency to the HP releases.

I don’t think they disclose the specific ratios for all three of these elements of maturation, but I’ll share what information I’m aware of as I discuss each of the expressions.

[Note: All prices listed are just the local price range from a couple of big box liquor stores (Total Wine & More and Bevmo)]

Highland Park 12 (43%; $35-45)

HP 12HP 12 was the first Highland Park single malt, and the only standard expression from 1979 until 1997, when they introduced the 18 year expression. The 12 year is matured predominantly in Spanish oak casks, 20% of which are first fill.

Nose: Peaches in syrup, a hint of leather (that’s right…I said leather, not heather), and something a little earthy/vegetal, though I hesitate to say peat. Sometimes the peaches seem more like candied orange.
Palate: A good mouth coating with more sweets, some spice and a nice tingle on the tongue. Becoming dry at the end.
Finish: Medium length with continued drying. The fruitiness is back, though muted, and enveloped in a light smoke.
Comments: Ok, is it just me, or does the HP 12 nose have a lot in common with Dalmore 12? However, the HP separates itself with more impact in the mouth, and a longer, more interesting finish. I felt the Dalmore 12 was worth 83 or 84 points, and this one deserves a couple more points for the improvements in the mouth. An excellent standard expression! 86 points.

Highland Park 15 (43%; $55-65)

HP 15The 15 year is matured in 30% first fill casks, vs 20% for the 12 year. Additionally, there is a higher proportion of American oak casks. I don’t know what the ratio of American to Spanish oak casks is, though. The 15 year was just introduced in 2003.

Nose: Seems simpler than the 12, actually. HUGE lime (like it’s infused with lime peels) with a little bit of oak, and just the slightest hint of smoke.
Palate: Citrus with some sweet spices. More drying than the 12, and a little more zip and tingle on the tongue.
Finish: Drying, with big lime coming back, along with the light smoke that seems to be a signature HP trait.
Comments: The 15 year is not a natural progression on the way from the 12 to the 18. The shift in focus from Spanish to American oak really changes the profile, and I can understand where some people would find this a bit disconcerting. I’m a big fan, though. It’s not super complex, but that infusion of lime perks me up and makes me take notice. I love the way it adds zip in the mouth, while still retaining the fascinating drying and light smoke from the 12 year. Personally, I’m inclined to reach for this one over the 12 in most cases. Is this one of those guilty pleasures? Will the lime start seeming excessive by the time I empty the bottle? I don’t know, but right now I’d give it 88 points.
[Update] I revisited the 15 year in my Earl Magnus blog post and the lime does seem a little more over the top now. The palate is a little more watery, too. I updated my rating to 87 points just to show a little more separation between this and the 18 year and Magnus. I still think the 15 is a great whisky.

A tale of two HP 15 year olds: I mentioned at the top that I had also ordered a mini of the 40% HP 15 from the UK. I wanted to provide notes on the 40% vs 43% bottlings, but I encountered a problem. My 40% sample was completely flat on the palate, and when it hit the finish, an off-putting soapy flavor came up into my nostrils and stuck with me until I washed it away with one of the good HPs. For now, I’m giving HP the benefit of the doubt, and assuming I somehow got a bad sample. If that’s not the case, and this is what the 40% 15 year old tastes like, that would be a real shame.

Highland Park 18 (43%; $83-99)

HP 18Now we jump up to 45% first fill casks, and predominantly Spanish oak like with the 12 year. The 18 year was the second core single malt expression introduced…18 years after the 12 year was introduced, funny enough.

Nose: Darker and richer than either the 12 or 15. Much more fruity. Starting with dried fruits and sweet spices and turning into fresh red fruits and berries. Not a sherry bomb, but the additional first fill casks are obvious here. I think I’m also picking up a little bit of fresh oak underneath the fruit.
Palate: Good body and fruity flavor. Bigger mouth feel than the 12 or 15.
Finish: More red fruits. There is smoke, and it’s starting to get bigger than with the first two…lifting the fruits up into the back of the nostrils and staying for a while.
Comments: Wow! Amazing balance on this one. The way the Spanish sherry cask influence comes out, but doesn’t completely take over is very appealing. It doesn’t seem quite as drying as the first two, actually, but still a great mouth feel. Sweets, spices, oak, fruit, smoke…they all enter and exit at the right points, and mix together in the right way. It’s hard to explain, but I just have a hard time finding fault. That’s not to say it can’t be improved upon. There could be more mouth impact and more smoke, and I wouldn’t complain one bit. Still…this is a pretty amazing whisky. I rank it right up in the neighborhood of my favorites at 90 points.


It’s interesting how they’ve used the sweet/smoky combination to  achieve a common, identifiable distillery character across the expressions, yet each is a very distinct experience. I don’t know that age has contributed to the differences between the 12 and 15 year so much as the maturation “recipe”, especially with regards to the use of American oak. The 18 year, on the other hand, seems to have a richness about it that indicates a sweet spot in the aging process.

If you just look at the point ratings I assign to these three expressions, it looks like I’m phoning it in and awarding a couple of points for every 3 years of aging. That’s not the case at all, though. These three expressions arrive at their satisfaction level and rating in completely different ways, with age potentially playing just a little bit of a roll in the 18 year story. I could imagine somebody switching these ratings around based on personal preference, but I find it easy to recommend all of these as high quality drams with a good value proposition (not taking into account that 40% 15 year sample).

Coming in Part 2…

In my next post, I’ll compare the 21, 25 and 30 year, which all have a higher alcohol percentage. I’ll also talk about them relative to these younger expressions with regards to profile similarities and value proposition. I REALLY want to like the 25 year more than the 30 because of the price difference, but will it be able to pull off the upset? Also, my take on the 21 year being voted the best whisky in the world this past year in the Whisky Magazine awards.

Update: Here’s the link to The HP core expressions – Part 2

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