Archive for the ‘review’ Category


Continuing on with my Core Islay Expressions exploration, I’m stepping back from the big Ardbeg and Laphroaig malts and taking a look at the two entry-level Bowmore expressions. Bowmore presents a gentler, less phenolic side of Islay peat, and while the uber-expensive bottlings from the 1960s seem to get lots of attention, I never seem to see much written about the more common expressions.

Much of what I’ve seen on message boards about Bowmore focuses on some sort of “lavender” scent/flavor known as “FWP” that appears to have been introduced in the mid-90s, lasting into the early part of the last decade. I’ll let you read more about FWP in this distillery profile on the Malt Madness site. Some real damage seems to have been done to the Bowmore reputation (at least in whisky enthusiast circles) during this time. This issue seems to have been put to rest, though, and I don’t find my 2008 – 2010 bottlings to be off-putting at all.

Bowmore Legend and 12 Year

Tasting Notes

Bowmore 12 Year (2008; 40%; $40)

Nose: Orange and chocolate, reminiscent of Dalmore (more orange than chocolate, though). An equal helping of earthy peat, much like Talisker, but with more of a tea leaf note as it tails off.  This isn’t a strong peat, nor is it very medicinal. Finally, there’s something sweet going on here. I’ve read about Bowmore having Lavender notes before, but this doesn’t seem flowery to me. A pretty complex nose, really. One to sit with a while and enjoy.
Palate: Sweet peat on the palate, along with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg.  It’s not big, but it’s not thin either. Frankly, it could use a bit more oomph, as it falls down a little here in comparison to Talisker or other standard Islay malts. However, if those big whiskies aren’t your bag, then you might find this to be a relief!
Finish: Peat and tea leaves in the back of the nostrils are accompanied by a return of  sweets and fruit. Although, now, instead of oranges, it’s more like passion fruit. On the tongue, I get some more of that Dalmore chocolate with some mild drying. Interestingly, as the dryness wears off, I’m left with a salty after-taste.

Comments: Dang, this is a pretty fine single malt! It has a lot to offer on the nose, and it’s great for sitting with and sipping neat out of a nosing glass. I think the nose promises a little more than the palate/finish can deliver, though. This might disappoint some people. Also, while I’ve decided that the sweet/peat combination is enjoyable, I’m not sure this will appeal to everybody. For me, this is a solid B whisky (84 points)

Bowmore Legend NAS (2010; 40%; $25)

Nose: Very “spirity” at first, screaming “I’m a young malt!” I think there might be a little lemon trying to get through, but it’s hard to say. Getting beyond that, I’m getting a fairly simple nose of peat smoke and toffee sweets. Interestingly, the peat itself doesn’t come across as particularly young. If you’re planning to spend some time nosing this one, let it sit for 15-20 minutes in the glass and the peat comes through more clearly.
Palate: You know those “Sugar in the Raw” packets at some restaurants? On the palate, this whisky is like a combination of that sugar and a reasonably juicy barley/grass component.
Finish: A one-note finish of peat, but it’s an enjoyable, somewhat “pure” peat. It IS a somewhat short finish, though. Nothing spectacular going on here, but harmless and enjoyable enough.

Comments: Ok, this is a pretty straight-forward expression, and the initial, youthful nose didn’t wow me. However, it quickly turns into an enjoyable and easy drinking whisky. For me, this will be a tumbler dram. No need to pull out the nosing copita…just pour a glass and enjoy the sweet barley on the mouth and the clean peat smoke finish. I think I found my Islay version of Glenfiddich 12. B- (80 Points)


The Bowmore Legend is not just a younger version of the 12 Year expression. They’re completely different animals. Actually, the Legend DOES seem kind of like a baby Bowmore Tempest, which I’ve sampled, but don’t have a full bottle of. My guess is that the Legend is matured in mostly (if not all) bourbon casks, while the 12 year is a combination of bourbon and sherry casks.

As I said in my comments above, I think the Legend is a perfect “tumbler dram.” Pour it in a glass and drink it neat, on ice, or mixed with something else for a smoky cocktail. I think @whiskywitch nailed it on Twitter when she said:

Legend has been the “go to” Islay Scotch for lots of my 20-something clients- it pairs well with pizza or burgers + fries

As for Bowmore 12 year, I’ve gained a greater appreciation of this expression over the past couple of years. When Islay whiskies were new and exciting for me, the Bowmore just didn’t seem to hold up to the higher peating in other Islay malts. Now I’ve chilled a bit and can appreciate the more subtle nuances in this whisky. Sometimes it strikes me as Dalmore’s pipe-smoking cousin, and other times as Talisker exploring its feminine side. Actually…if you have both Bowmore 12 and Talisker 175th anniversary on hand, pour a glass of both side by side. They’re really not THAT far apart in terms of nose profile. The Bowmore doesn’t hold a candle to the Talisker on the palate and finish, though. 🙂

I can easily recommend both of these whiskies given the right circumstances. However, if you’ve tried and liked Talisker and are looking to see what this whole Islay craze is all about, the Bowmore 12 isn’t going to break any new ground for you. Laphroaig and Ardbeg are where the main phenol frenzy is at, and Lagavulin is on a whole different plane. Still, the Bowmore 12 year offers a unique take on sweet peat and is very much worth a try. With the Legend, you can check your pretension at the door, party a little bit, and enjoy that smoky finish.


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With Ardbeg 10 (86 points) serving as a benchmark whisky for my Islay scotch reviews, I decided I needed another benchmark that I would rate closer to 80 points. The Islay equivalent of a Glenfiddich 12, if you will. Laphroaig 10 seemed like it would fit the bill. While I’m a HUGE Laphroaig fan, and their 30 year is my favorite whisky to date, my experience with the 10 year old (until recently), had been limited to a few drams in bars, where it was nice, but seemed pretty one-dimensional.

Once I tried the Laphroaig Quarter Cask expression, I quickly made the decision that it was enough better than the 10 year old to warrant a few extra bucks and a place in my cupboard. With the QC on hand, why would I reach for the 10 year? So, the 10 year expression has remained an after-thought for me over the past couple of years. However, with new ideas of journalistic integrity in mind, I finally caved and bought a 2010 bottling of Laphroaig 10 for $37. Let’s see if my opinion of this one changes when consumed in the comfort of my own home (and Glencairn glass), and how it compares to the excellent Quarter Cask expression.

Laphroaig QC and 10

Tasting Notes

Laphroaig 10 year [2010; 43%; $37]

Nose: Certainly not one-dimensional here. Fruity (apples/pears) and sweet, with vanilla and, surprisingly, a pretty gentle but ashy smoke. On first nosing, there’s an iodine presence, but I quickly acclimate and stop noticing it. So far, a pretty well balanced dram.
Palate: Peaty, but juicy barley on the mouth, with a little bit of pepper. Not as big and oily as Ardbeg 10, but not weak either.
Finish: Ok, there’s the big smoke I was looking for. Where the Ardbeg smoke is like a camp fire, Laphroaig 10 is decidedly more industrial. A strong tar smoke shoots up the nostrils and coats the tongue from top to bottom, nearly drowning out all of the other flavors. I can see why this seemed like a one trick pony when I had this at the bar. The finish is long, with the tar slowly turning to ash on the tongue.

Comments: One-dimensional? Certainly not on the nose, but very close to it on the finish. Overall, the Laphroaig 10 was better than I remembered. I definitely consider this a worthwhile purchase at under $40. It’s not as big or complex as Ardbeg 10, but what’s there is still good, and that tar on the finish is very unique. If you’re like me, you’ll wonder on first tasting whether you really should be enjoying such a flavor. Don’t be surprised if it grows on you over time, though. Just into the full “B” range for me. 83 points.

Note: I also went through a 50ml sample of Laphroaig 10 bottled at 40% for the UK. It had basically the same profile, but was quite weak on the palate. That one I would probably rate at 81 points. I’m glad we get the 43% bottling in the US!

Laphroaig Quarter Cask (NAS) [2007?; 48%; $50]

Nose: Similar sweet fruit, ashy smoke, hint of iodine and vanilla as the 10 year, but with a stronger fresh-cut oak component. If you like oaky scotches and bourbons, this should appeal.
Palate: Oh, I really like this 48% ABV. Very close to my theoretically ideal bottling strength of 50%. It’s bigger and thicker than the 10 year…closer in thickness to Ardbeg 10, but with even more zing.
Finish: Here’s where the QC really separates itself from the 10 year. Yes, there is a tarry peat smoke that blasts right up the nostrils, but the fruit and barley are still there. And hello there, vanilla…thanks for sticking around. That big oak presence stays very much in the picture through the long finish.

Comments: The Quarter Cask expression brings everything to the table that the 10 year does, and then some. It improves the balance in the process. Now, if you’re not a fan of super oaky whiskies, and you like the 10 year, I’d recommend you try before you buy. For me, this is right up there in enjoyment level with the Ardbeg 10 year. Two different takes on peat, both worth checking out. 86 points.

Final comparison thoughts

Sure, I like the Laphroaig Quarter Cask more than the 10 year. However, the 10 put up much more of a fight than I expected. If you buy Laphroaig almost solely for that tarry peat finish, then by all means, save a few bucks and enjoy the 10. It’s a great dram. I guess my search continues for an Islay equivalent to Glenfiddich 12 (assuming they keep sending us the 43% version of Laphroaig 10 in the US).

As for Laphroaig vs Ardbeg, I think the QC gives up a touch of complexity and balance to the Ardbeg, but that extra 2% ABV is nice. It’s really more of a mood thing for me, depending on the type of peat smoke I’m looking for. The enjoyment I get from drinking either is pretty much the same. Forced to pick one, I’d go with the Ardbeg.


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Wow, it’s been quite a few weeks since I posted any whisky reviews. I’ve been busy with a work project, and while I’ve had my fair share of drams, and taken notes here and there, I just didn’t find the time to write an actual blog post. My plan now is to quickly post a series of notes on core Islay expressions.

In January, I read Serge’s great post about reviewing whiskies and establishing “benchmarks” for yourself on WhiskyFun.com. For the most part, I think I’ve done basically what he talked about in that article when reviewing whiskies. When I take tasting notes, it’s in a controlled, consistent environment. I always compare with familiar expressions, and I have personal “benchmark” expressions for different types/regions of whisk(e)y.

Ardbeg 10 has been an Islay benchmark for me over the past two years. However, after reading Serge’s post, I realized that I never actually wrote up my notes and provided a score on this expression. So here we go…

Ardbeg 10

Tasting Notes

Ardbeg 10 (2010; 46%; $50)

Nose: A combination of sweets and wood smoke, like eating smores at a camp fire. Some fruit (leaning towards citrus) and vanilla are also present.
Palate: Big and oily, turning peppery as it works towards the back of the tongue. Bottling at 46% was a wise decision! Don’t confuse “big” with rough, though. This is actually a pretty smooth customer.
Finish: Continued pepper on the tongue, and the camp fire comes back up through the nostrils. In fact, it’s as if the wind shifted and the smoke blew right in your face and stuck to your nose hairs. As the finish very, very slowly dies down, I feel like there is a hint of licorice or anise present. This is a flavor that I’m generally not fond of, but this whisky is so good overall, I’m able to work around it.

Comments: Relatively light in color, but deep and brooding at heart, I think Ardbeg 10 is the perfect drink for sitting in a cabin in the woods during the winter, near a fire and reading a book. It’s well rounded, smoky, and big without being overwhelming. I’ve had two bottles of this…one from 2006, and this 2010 bottle. From my notes, I found the two to be very similar. This expression is deserving of the many accolades it receives, and truly is a benchmark Islay whisky. Obviously, not an expression for the anti-smoke crowd. This is on the high side of a B rating for me; 86 points.

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Ahh…back in the WordPress blog editor after a little over a month. My day job has been more of a day and night job since the start of the year. Fortunately, we’re in the process of wrapping up the project that has kept me so busy. I needed something to jump-start me back into writing about whisky, and the Single Malt Whisky Society of America (SMWSA) has provided just the jolt I needed…

(Click banner for link to official site)

I posted a couple of times last year about the Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza, and heard good things about it, but wasn’t able to get away to Los Angeles to check one out. I received a notice of the 2011 Spring schedule, however, and my very own Phoenix, AZ is now included as one of the tour stops! They’re coming to The Arizona Biltmore on Thursday March 24. Finally, a real live major whisky event in our sprawling desert metropolis! Dallas, TX is also a new venue this year.

Here’s the official blurb describing the event:

Ladies and Gentlemen are cordially invited to enjoy a connoisseur’s evening featuring over 120 rare & exceptional single malt and Scotch whiskies. The evening includes a delicious dinner buffet as well as a selection of premium imported cigars for our guests’ later enjoyment. The Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza brings the discerning enthusiast the opportunity to sample the participating whiskies in a sophisticated and elegant environment with genuine camaraderie and knowledgeable representatives from each participating distillery.

All events from 7:00pm-9:30pm. Registration begins at 7:00pm. Business casual, Jackets preferred. Jackets are required at the Chicago & Philadelphia events. No denim or athletic attire may be worn to the events.

The standard ticket price is $135 for non-members and $120 for members, but you can use the promo code “SH2011” to get the member price. Tickets are available for purchase here: https://www.amerisurf.com/singlemaltextravaganza/form_tickets.html.

I hope we can get a decent crowd to attend here in AZ, so that we can continue to attract this, and possibly other significant whisk(e)y events. If we can just find enough people here in the desert who actually own business casual attire. 🙂

There are six other venues in the spring tour as well, so take a look below and see if an extravaganza is coming your way (Note: I blacked out one of the venues, as they’re not allowed to advertise for it. Apparently there are a bunch of psychic whisky drinkers there who will just know to show up):

Spring 2011 Extravaganza Schedule

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MoM Tomatin 19 Single Cask

I hadn’t really seen or heard much about the Tomatin distillery until mid-2010 when Joshua over at The Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society generously sent me 50ml of his Master of Malt Tomatin 19 year single cask (cask-strength) as part of a sample swap. He was really impressed with it and thought I’d like it. I took one whiff and was hooked. Although, the oak is borderline too much on the palate. Still, a very impressive whisky. Later, when Master of Malt offered to send some review samples, I noticed that the cask-strength bottling wasn’t available anymore, but they do have a 40% version available. I was able to get a sample of that, and will share my thoughts in this blog post.

Next, I saw some comments by Steffen of the Danish Whisky Blog about the Tomatin distillery releases being much improved. He especially seemed to like the 18 year distillery bottling. A few weeks ago, I ordered a bottle of the Tomatin 18 year, newly formulated in 2009, with an Oloroso Sherry Cask finish, and bottled at 46% non chill-filtered. I’m going to cover this expression here as well, and compare/contrast with the MoM bottling.

I discovered over at Malt Madness that the Tomatin distillery had as many as 23 active stills in the 1970s, with most of the produced whisky going into blends. It had the largest production capacity in Scotland! Apparently, it’s that historical focus on blends (particularly Antiquary and The Talisman) that has prevented Tomatin from becoming a household name. The current owners (out of Japan), however, seem to be bringing the single malt releases more to the fore, with 12, 15, 18 and 25 year expressions in the standard range.

Tasting Notes

Master of Malt Tomatin Aged 19 Years (40%); 90+S&H

Nose: I’m struck by very “fresh” malted barley sweetness, along with plenty of oak and vanilla. Then…more malted barley. It actually SMELLS big and juicy and sets up big expectations for the palate.
Palate: Just as promised by the nose, a big, juicy, malty sensation on the palate. Now with a little fruit (apples/pairs) added in.
Finish: A little pepper, and then, would you believe, more of that awesome malted barley? It has a medium length.
Comments: I’m blown away by the malted barley sweetness on this one. So fresh, clean and juicy. In my experience so far (just a couple of years), this has got to be my reference for that particular flavor trait. I actually think this is  nearly as good as the cask strength version, as the oak isn’t quite as over-the-top on this one. However, when watering the cask strength version down to about 46-48%, I think the palate is a bit nicer.
Rating: B+; 88 points (89 for the cask strength bottling)

Tomatin 18 Years (OB; 2010; 46%); $60

Nose: Oak and vanilla, but not as strong as on the 19 year. It seems to be toned down by a fairly strong dried fruit presence from the sherry finish. There’s some of that fresh malted barley here as well, but it’s a part of the balanced presentation, not in your face. All of this is very clean.
Palate: Juicy and fruity, then white pepper kicks in, stronger than on the 19 year.
Finish: On the late palate and early finish, there’s more malted barley. It’s not at all stale like I often find in “malty” whiskies. The white pepper lingers for a medium-long period.
Comments: Very well balanced and highly refreshing. So clean from start to finish, and the dried fruits from the sherry finish integrate wonderfully with the oak and barley that were so prominent on the MoM 19 year. I’m guessing most would rate this a little lower than the MoM bottling, but what can I say? I’m a big fan of that dried fruit sherry influence.
Rating: B+; 89 points

Tomatin MoM 19 and OB 18


My favorite whiskies to this point typically have had some peat and hail from other regions, or they have a fairly heavy sherry influence. I’m not quite ready to put either of these on my best of the best (90+ points) list, but they sure move up to the top of the Speyside whiskies I’ve tried that aren’t heavily influenced by sherry (Aberlour a’bunadh comes to mind in that category). I had to mail order my Tomatin 18 bottle. I really hope to see a wider distribution in the U.S. soon!

I can strongly recommend the MoM release as a reference point for understanding what a brilliantly malty experience Tomatin has to offer, not to mention a wonderfully clean oak/vanilla component from the bourbon cask maturation. However, if you’re in the United States, it’s going to set you back over $100 with the exchange rate and shipping (you can always try a 30ml sample, though). That’s why I give the nod to the standard 18 year release as an amazing value whisky, with plenty of that malty goodness to go with the dried fruits and oak. At close to the same price as The Glenlivet 18 year, and bottled at 46%, this Tomatin is a no-brainer in the $60 and under price range.

Thanks to Master of Malt for the 19 year sample! You can check out MoM on the web here (and my disclaimer here):

Other opinions

Whisky Fun: Serge gave the 18 year a solid 85 points, although that’s actually a point lower than his rating for the previous release at 40%.

What Does John Know (Malt Advocate): 88 points for the 18 year from John Hansell.

The Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society: Here is Joshua’s review of the 40% MoM release. He digs it.

Whisky for Everyone: A nice overview of the distillery, along with notes on the 15 and 18 year OB expressions.

The Whisky Bible: Jim Murry loves both of these (and the cask strength version of the 19 year), rating them in the mid 90s.

Whisky Notes: Also of note is Ruben’s 86 point review of the cask-strength version of the MoM 19 year.

Tomatin for Christmas

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Last year, I was fortunate enough to receive a free bottle of The Balvenie Madiera Cask 17 year for review from William Grant & Sons (parent company for The Balvenie). I really liked it, but wasn’t completely sold on the value proposition. So, that’s it for freebies from them, right? I guess not! This year, I was sent another 750 ml “sample”, this time of the new U.S. only Caribbean Rum Cask 14 Year release. I was told that this expression was developed especially for the U.S. market by David Stewart, as he wanted to create a release that U.S. whisky enthusiasts could enjoy on an ongoing basis. This is a permanent addition to the core range. Thank you Mr. Stewart!

I’ve already been asked on Twitter about the difference between this release and the previous Rum Cask 17 Year and “Golden Cask” 14 Year limited releases. Here’s the scoop from The Balvenie:

  • While the idea for the 14 Year Caribbean Cask release was based on the popularity of the limited Rum Cask release, and those flavor characteristics were kept in mind, this is a new and different product.
  • The 17 Year Rum Cask release was matured exclusively in rum casks, where Caribbean Rum Cask is just finished in rum casks. Plus, there’s the three year age difference.
  • The 14 Year “Golden Cask” is a limited, Travel Retail only release. It’s produced using casks that previously held golden rum, and it’s bottled at 57.5%, non chill-filtered, vs 43% chill-filtered for Caribbean Rum Cask.

Tasting Notes

I decided to do a full comparison of The Balvenie expressions that are available for $60 or less. Basically, I want to figure out what my “go to” expression will be in this price range.  I had collected the other expressions over the past couple of years.

12 Year DoubleWood (40%) – $40

Finished in sherry casks, DoubleWood offers up soft fruits (peaches, light citrus) and brown sugar, then a hint of vanilla and oak. Light malty palate, with a fairly short finish. There’s some lingering maltiness, but not much else. This is a VERY accessible malt. A nice alternative to Glenfiddich 12 or Glenlivet 12, and a great “beginner” whisky. 81 points (B-)

10 Year Founder’s Reserve (43% in the U.S.) – $40

Reverses the DoubleWood profile. This time, it’s vanilla and oak that stand out. The fruit is more of an apple, but takes a back seat to the vanilla. The initial hit on the palate is fairly light, but it builds to an almost peppery late palate and finish with a pleasant drying effect. I kind of liked the style of fruit on the DoubleWood more, but this one wins out easily on the palate and finish. This was discontinued last year, but has continued to occupy shelf space in the United States. Worth picking up! 83 points (B)

15 Year Single Barrel (Cask #3442; 47.8%) – $60

This is a pretty cool expression, as it comes with the barrel and bottle numbers hand-written on the label, and offers the excitement of differences in each batch. I believe they seek to offer a reasonably similar profile between batches, though.  This one has less fruit than the other mixed cask Balvenies.  It’s sweet, with LOTS of vanilla and fresh oak notes. It’s also a bit hot on the nose and early palate. It’s sweet and malty on the palate, but with my bottle, that maltiness turns a bit stale going into the medium-length finish. I really enjoyed the strong vanilla and the impact on the palate that the higher ABV provides, but the staleness on the finish brings it down a notch for me. I’m sure there’s a batch out there with my name on it, though. 84 points (B)

12 Year Signature Batch 1 (40%) – $40 to $50

Matured in a combination of first fill bourbon, refill bourbon and refill sherry, I think the introduction of this release last year might be the reason Founder’s Reserve was discontinued. On the nose, there’s a great balance of the peaches and citrus from the DoubleWood expression, with the vanilla and oak spices from the Founder’s Reserve, plus some cinnamon. Oh…and is that coconut? This is probably the best nose of the whole group, with lots going on. On the palate, it’s similar to the Founder’s Reserve at first, but doesn’t build like that one. Although it does have the same pleasant drying. Compared to the nose, the palate and finish are a bit of a let down. It’s is worth buying for the nose alone, though. Kudos to Mr. Stewart for that!  85 points (B)

14 Year Caribbean Rum Cask (43%) – $60

A great balance of fruit, vanilla and toffee sweetness. A little spice, but surprisingly, not as much as the signature.  In this expression, the fruit starts on apples, then leans slightly towards the tropical side, reminding me a little of Glenmorangie 18 year. The palate is much thicker than the Signature 12. It’s sweet and malty. The maltiness continues into the finish, with some spice and a nice drying sensation. The finish is medium-long, with the spices lingering. Not quite as impressive on the nose as the Signature 12, but the palate and finish make for a very well balanced whisky, elevating it above the other expressions. It’s not quite as rich and elegant as the 17 year Madeira Cask, though.  Overall, very impressive! 86 points (B)

Note: A review like this shows why I use a 100 point scale to do ratings. I think these are all good to very good expressions, with several falling into what I would consider to be a “B” range. Still, as I go back and review my spreadsheet/notes down the road, I want to be able to recall how these expressions stacked up in my mind relative to each other. Those fine-grained point differences allow that, and show that I felt there was a nice little bump in quality from the Founder’s Reserve to the Signature and Rum Cask releases.


Ok, I think I’ve found my new “go to” Balvenie in the Caribbean Rum Cask release! I’m putting my money where my mouth is, too. I’ve already purchased a bottle as a Christmas gift for a friend who likes The Balvenie. When I first tried the Caribbean Cask, I thought I might like it even more than the Madeira Cask release. However, having now compared them side-by-side, those extra three years of aging for the Madeira Cask really do make a difference. In fact, I think I’m going to update my ratings spreadsheet and move the Madeira Cask from 87 to 88 points. I just wish the price was lower.

Still, for $60 or less, the Caribbean Rum Cask is a fantastic whisky, and a welcome addition to the range. That being said, if they were to somehow add a little more zip to the palate of the 12 Year Signature, and maybe bottle it at a higher ABV, I think it would jump to the top. What an amazing nose on that one! Finally, keep in mind that I’m a big fan of sherried and peated whiskies. If you’re a big Speyside fan in general, I can see where you might rate all of these a few points higher in your own system.

I liked The Balvenie before, and found the lower priced expressions to be a good value, if unexciting. With the introduction of 12 year  Signature and 14 year Caribbean Rum Cask, I think there is a lot to be excited about across the whole range!


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Can a glass of whisk(e)y be sexy? I’m not talking about some weird fetish here. Rather, are there certain drinks that work better than others on a romantic evening with your loved one? I’ve found that there are some whiskies that I reach for on date nights with my wife, and others that I purposely avoid. For example, a glass of Ardbeg, based on my wife’s tolerance for certain odors, would require me to sit in the next room. Not sexy. I’ve had some more expensive go-to drinks in the past for these situations…typically 18-21 year old Scotch whiskies with at least some sherry cask influence. These are whiskies where the spirit has been somewhat mellowed over time, and the oak from the cask has been kept in check.

But what about more accessible (affordable) whiskies? The Macallan or Glendronach 12 year offerings do the trick for me, but lately, I’ve found myself reaching more often than not for my bottle of The Dalmore 12 year. Hopefully this is based primarily on the taste. Of course, there’s also the power of suggestion. I read this article in Wired about Richard Paterson (The Nose), where they said of one of his tasting sessions:

Paterson talked constantly during the tasting session, describing each sip with words like “sensual” and “sexy.”

Then there’s the super duper ultra premium Dalmore expressions that sell for huge sums of money and are packaged in sleek decanters. Perhaps that plays on my mind when I’m looking through my cabinet for a mood drink. Regardless, my goal in this post is to compare the three expressions at the lower end of the Dalmore range in search of my go-to affordable and “sexy” whisky. I’m talking about the 12 year, Gran Reserva (previously Cigar Malt) and the 15 year. Many thanks to Laura from The Baddish Group in New York for sending me some Dalmore samples.

Dalmore samples

Tasting Notes

So, what is it about The Dalmore that puts me in the mood for love? It’s a combination of soft sherry fruit flavors (sometimes leaning towards orange), chocolate, caramel and subtle spices. Not overpowering, but not boring either. Let’s see how things shake out with these three expressions (prices are my local prices at a big box store in AZ):

12 Year (40%) $40 – Matured in 50% American white oak and 50% Oloroso sherry casks. This still comes across much like my previous tasting notes last year. A chocolate orange hits, then gives way to wood spices and pineapple upside-down cake. Fruity and sweet on the palate. Maybe a little fizzy, with some drying and some late spices. Relatively light on the finish, with a hint of smoke in the nostrils and a trace of tea. Soft and sexy, but still reasonably interesting. I think I like it a little more now than I did when I first got the bottle. Rating: B (85 points)

Gran Reserva (40%) $57 – Oh, baby, I can hear Marvin Gaye’s voice setting the mood as I take this one in. [Wait, I clicked on the YouTube link above. The point still stands, though.] It’s matured in all first-fill casks, 60% sherry and 40% bourbon, for 10-15 years, then married for 6 additional months in sherry casks. Where the 12 year was Terry’s chocolate orange, this one starts on dried fruits and turns to Godiva dark chocolate with orange liqueur. Brown sugar and cinnamon come through in whispers. The palate is a physical manifestation of the orange and cocoa nose, but also gets a little Coca-Cola fizzy like the 12 year. Not so much as to be distracting, though. The finish introduces some smoke and light mocha, and a 50% cacao chocolate flavor lingers on the tongue. This is one smooth operator. Rating: B (87 points)

15 Year (40%) $75 – 100% sherry casks,  a combination of Matusalem, Apostoles and Amoroso. Very noticeable sherry influence, but still light (not a sherry “bomb”). Going to the next level from Gran Reserva, this moves from dried fruits to ripe red fruits, then gives way to a bit of that orange I now expect from the distillery. There are dessert cooking spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves), but they take a back seat to the sherry. The palate and finish are very polite, with some chocolate added to the mix, but it’s still light fruits that carry through to the short but enjoyable end. Rating: B (pending more tasting sessions)


Can you guess from my notes which of the three comes closest to serving as an aphrodisiac for me? 🙂  I find all three of these expressions to be of similar quality. Last year, when I reviewed the 12 year, I said that it was good, but I wanted more oomph. Granted, I’d gladly accept an update from Dalmore with all of these bottled at 46%, but I’ve also come to better appreciate more subtle and laid back whiskies. Today, I would rate all of these as solid B whiskies in the 85+ point range (based on my personal rating scale).

The 12 year is probably the most “interesting” of the three, actually, but also a little less refined than the other two. It’s clearly the best value of the bunch, though. The 15 year is a very nice, polite, medium-sherried whisky. However, if I want good medium sherry flavors and a nice personality, I’ll probably shell out 40% less money and purchase another bottle of Glendronach 12 year. The Gran Reserva is my new favorite “less expensive” Dalmore by a narrow margin. It’s so elegant and refined; so sweet and smooth; it’s the perfect mood drink for me on a romantic evening. I now own a full bottle of this (well, it was full last week). What’s your favorite whisk(e)y aphrodisiac?

Update: I mentioned above that the Gran Reserva used to be called “Cigar Malt.” What I forgot to point out is that the Cigar Malt was bottled at 43%. If I manage to find a dusty bottle of that somewhere, I’m definitely going to buy it and see if that extra 3% made a difference.

Other opinions

Ok, I don’t expect other single malt whisky fanatics to be quite as into Gran Reserva as I am. I totally get that it’s not as “interesting” as a lot of other malts, and if you compare it side-by-side to more agressive whiskies, it might seem downright boring. But the above is my own true reaction to these expressions at this point in time. Here are some other opinions, mostly positive, but more often than not, wanting for more.

  • Whiskyfun.comby Serge – All three rated in the same post. You know, Serge really doesn’t rate these that much lower than me. The Gran Reserva is his least favorite of the three, though. Although I’m surprised to see him describe it as “pushy.”
  • whisky-pages – You can find all three on their Dalmore page. Holy crap…they also have Terry’s chocolate orange in the notes! Although, they associate it with the Gran Reserva, as opposed to the 12 year. Splitting hairs, though. They also seem to like all three about the same.
  • WhiskyNotes.be – Ruben reviews the Gran Reserva. You know, 81 points is a pretty respectable score for Ruben. He certainly has a point that it would be nice to try it at 43 or 46% ABV.
  • Malt Advocate – John Hansell reviewed the full Dalmore lineup. Like Serge, he rates the 15 year a few points higher than the other two.

Ok, maybe the scores in these reviews by more learned palates than mine aren’t that far off from my own. Jim Murray, on the other hand, says of the Gran Reserva’s finish – “well, is there one?” before handing it a score of 78.5 in his Whisky Bible.

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Here we go with my first review of a free Master of Malt sample. It’s a 20 year old Glenfarclas from the Family Cask series, bottled at 56.5%. There were 521 bottles produced from a single refill sherry puncheon. I’m going to compare it with the standard Glenfarclas 17 year old release.

MoM 3cl Samples and packaging

I already discussed what’s going on with these samples from MoM. I’d like to additionally editorialize that their sample program is pretty sweet. As long as you’re comfortable with the prices they charge for the samples you’re interested in, everything else is top notch. Excellent packaging with really nice looking wax-dipped bottles, and very fast shipping. The only down side is I’d rather see 40 or 50 ml samples, depending on how much extra they would charge.

Tasting notes and comparisons

Glenfarclas Family Cask 1986 (cask #3434; 56.5%; 70cl $260, 3cl $15)

Glenfarclas 1986 Family Cask

Nose: There is light sherry influence of the dried fruits variety, but it is somewhat muted. Rising above the sherry are distinct oak and vanilla notes. There is also an underlying sweetness. Adding some water brings the sherry notes out more, and makes it more balanced.
Palate: This one has a very rich feel on the palate, initially juicy on the tongue, followed by some nice spices and drying.
Finish: On the finish, it’s still kind of spicy, with the oak returning, and finally turning a little malty. It’s not a particularly long finish, but it’s nice while it lasts.

My rating: 87 points

Glenfarclas 17 Year (43%; 75cl $85)

Nose: The same kind of sherry (dried fruits) as the 1986, as well as vanilla and oak, but the fruit stands out more, and the oak stands down to create a more balanced presentation.
Palate: Malty and sweet, and lightly spiced, with noticeable drying on the tongue.
Finish: Balanced on the finish, just as on the nose. Less oaky again than the Family Cask, which I think is a good thing in this case. It’s probably just the oak/malt combination, but in the nostrils, I could swear there’s a hint of Highland Park style smoke that lingers for a while.

My rating: 88 points


Neither one of these is a “sherry bomb.” Look to first-fill sherry cask expressions for that. The 1986 brings increased oak on the nose and finish relative to the 17 year, to the point that it might be a little much for some people. Add a little water to balance it out. And of course, there’s the higher ABV, which provides more impact. The 17 year offers increased maltiness on the nose and finish, and perhaps a hint of smoke. For me, the 17 year wins out on the nose, the 1986 has an edge on the palate, and the finish goes once again to the 17 year.

Bottom line

If you’re a fan of medium-sherried whiskies that allow the oak flavors to come through, you’ll probably like the 1986 Family Cask. However, price is certainly a consideration. I would not pay $260 for a bottle unless I really wanted something tied to the year 1986. That being said, this Family Cask bottling is a very enjoyable whisky, and thanks to Master of Malt, if you’re considering buying one to celebrate the year 1986 in some way, you can try a sample for $15 [hey, that was a pretty good plug, huh?].

The Glenfarclas 17 year isn’t as big on the palate, but otherwise offers a very similar, and in some ways more balanced profile for much less money. I’m very impressed with this expression, and purchased a backup bottle when it was on sale locally.

This is a pair of extremely enjoyable medium-sherry whiskies and both are highly recommended based on taste. For value, the 17 year obviously wins out.

Master of Malt info

Many thanks to Natalie and the gang at Master of Malt for picking out a set of samples and supplying them to me. This special, rare bottling sample was a nice surprise. Check out MoM on the web here:

Once again, here’s the link to the Glenfarclas Family Cask 1986 page, where you can purchase a full bottle or sample. For the record, this is not an affiliate link. I’m not currently participating in any such programs.


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I’m going to be doing a few scotch reviews soon based on samples from Master of Malt. Four of them are free samples that I got as part of a promotion they seem to be doing with bloggers. Before I start posting these, I thought I’d write up a quick disclaimer to link to from my reviews. I know this is an area (free samples) that can be controversial with some people.

About Master of Malt

Master of Malt (MoM) is a pretty cool online whisky retailer. You can get some insight into the company by reading this blog post/interview from The Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society or this one from Whisky Emporium. They also offer a series of whiskies under their own label. What’s especially unique about them is their offering of 3cl samples (packaged themselves from full sized bottles) of many of the whiskies they sell.

I’ve been a big fan of the ability to buy whisk(e)y samples for some time. I was able to blog about the full range of Highland Park (up through 30 year) by purchasing samples from Loch Fyne Whiskies and The Whisky Exchange. These were samples bottled by the distillery. I was also able to try most of Diageo’s special releases last year via WhiskySamples.eu, who specialize in samples of rare expressions. Now we have Master of Malt with their “Drinks by the Dram” try before you buy service, with prices ranging from about $3 to over $100 for a Glenfarclas 1952 family cask.

Here’s the deal

Ok, so Master of Malt is focusing on their internet business, and trying to get the word out about their online store and services such as Drinks by the Dram. One way of doing that is via whisky enthusiasts such as myself who have blogs. I’ve received a few free samples from other sources in the past (and always disclosed that fact), but those were from the distilleries, or their marketing representatives. There was never any kind of stipulation tied to the samples. In this case, the four free samples I received from MoM did arrive with a few strings attached, which is what I wanted to clarify in this blog post.

MoM has requested the following from any reviews tied to the samples they sent me for free:

  • A link to the Master of Malt home page
  • A link to the product page for each dram
  • Links to their social media pages (Twitter, Facebook)
  • Mention in the post of who supplied the sample

That’s it. They also stated clearly that they have no expectations for any particular types of reviews – no minimum word length; no time limit; no specific link blocks or anchor terms. They stressed that the reviews should be totally independent and unbiased. Overall, it sounds pretty reasonable to me. I don’t feel any pressure to behave differently when posting about these whiskies than I do with bottles I bought myself, or samples I traded for with other enthusiasts.

As far as I know, this was a one time offer. I’ll plan on buying samples myself in the future (as long as the price point works for me).


If you have any issues with the idea of some of my blog posts being based on free whisk(e)y samples, that’s fine. I get it. I’m not going to turn them down, though. I enjoy having the opportunity to try new whiskies. Most of them will come from my own purchases, or trades with other enthusiasts. Now and then, a unique opportunity like this one will come up, and I have no intention of passing on these opportunities, as long as I’m not asked to do anything “sneaky.” If it makes you feel any better, I have no means of receiving any kind of income from this blog. It’s 100% amateur hour here…no affiliate links, etc. (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

So, with that out of the way, I’m going to proceed with a clear conscience, enjoying as many types of whisk(e)y as I can, and sharing my thoughts, for as long as I continue to have fun doing it.


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Today, I’m comparing three Penderyn [the only whisky distillery in Wales] expressions to see which I like best. Back at the beginning of the year, I posted a review of the standard Penderyn Madeira Finish expression. I thought it was a good, and very different tasting whisky. As far as enjoyment level, I thought it fit right in with the likes of Glenfidich 12 and Glenlivet 12. Pretty good for a 5 to 6 year old whisky. Although, the folks at Penderyn would likely point out that their unique distillation process ages the spirit faster than more traditional means. To learn more about the distillery, I recommend reading this great post from the folks at Whisky for Everyone.

I was fortunate enough to get 50ml samples of Penderyn’s Sherrywood and Peated expressions from the distillery. These two additional expressions are due to hit the shelves in the United States in October 2010, and I was curious to see which of the three would be my favorite. All three expressions should have a suggested retail price around $70. The Sherrywood is made from a combination of Buffalo Trace Bourbon and Oloroso Sherry casks. The Peated expression is not made from peated barley. Rather, they mature it in a combination of Bourbon casks and casks previously used to mature peated Scotch whisky from Islay.

Three Penderyn whiskies


Let’s revisit the Penderyn Madiera Finish, then compare the others. Keep in mind that this is a small distillery, with bottlings created in batches (dates marked on the bottle). There could potentially be a fair amount of variance between the batches I’ve tried and other batches produced.

Note: All three expressions are bottled at 46%, which probably helped earn them an extra point. The dates listed correspond with the particular batches that I tried.

Penderyn Madiera (Nov 09) – I still find the nose to be fruity and topical, and a little bit sharp when initially poured. I’m also getting a pretty strong pine needle smell that I’m surprised I didn’t place the first time around. After some time in the glass, the pine dies down a little, and more vanilla appears. I definitely prefer this whisky after it sits in the glass for 20 minutes or so. The palate is lively and youthful, but not harsh. Still fruity, a marmalade bitterness is introduced heading into the finish that builds and lingers. Different. Perfectly enjoyable. 81 points.

Penderyn Peated (Sep 09) – This one has a very clear family resemblance to the Madeira finish. The unique distillery presentation of tropical fruits is there, but with an added twist…there is a citrus component that leans towards grapefruit. There is fresh oak and a little smoke, but I’m not really getting pine with this one. It’s vibrant on the palate, but like the Madeira finish, feels a bit on the young side. The grapefruit persists into the finish, accompanied by smoke. Grapefruit wrapped in tin foil and cooked on an open flame? Another very different whisk(e)y experience. I like it about the same as the Madeira finish, I suppose. 81 points.

Penderyn Sherrywood (June 08) – On the nose, this is much more Scottish (not sure how the Penderyn folks would feel about that). It’s very relaxed relative to the Madeira and Peated expressions. Definite sherry influence, with dried fruits, but also increased oak and vanilla. Quite a bit of vanilla, in fact. On the palate, it continues to be smooth and laid back. On the back of the palate, and into the finish, some of the youthful spirit and tropical fruits appear. The finish itself is quite smooth and lacks some of the marmalade bitterness of the other expressions. Even with similarities in places, it would be easy to mistake the Sherrywood for a different distillery from the other two expressions. The profile of the Sherrywood bottling is more my style. It reminds me of Aberlour 12 year, though not quite as rich as that one. It’s my favorite Penderyn so far, and one I would comfortably offer to whisky newbies as a very “accessible” single malt. 83 points.

Comments – Penderyn is a young company, having just started producing whisky 10 years ago. So far, I find their expressions to be in the good, but not great range relative to other whiskies I’ve tried. However, their distillery profile is quite unique. Because of this, I’ll probably make a point of keeping a bottle of Penderyn in my whisky cabinet. I’m also hopeful that as the company and its whisky continues to mature, truly great bottlings will follow. Perhaps sooner rather than later. If you get a chance to try any of the Penderyn expressions, take advantage of the opportunity. It should be a unique experience, and it might really float your boat. In fact, Jim Murray of Whisky Bible fame already finds many of the Penderyn bottlings to be top notch.

Other Opinions of Penderyn Sherrywood and Peated

It looks like the Penderyn folks distributed a bunch of samples from the same Sherrywood batch. All of the Sherrywood review links below are for the June ’08 bottling, as is Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible review, where he gave it 91 points. JM also reviewed several Peated batches, with scores ranging from 78 to 92.5.

  • Whiskyfun – This whiskyfun article compares the Madeira with the Sherrywood and scores them 70 and 80 points respectively. However, the Madeira sample he reviewed was from 2004, likely making it a couple years younger than the one I have.
  • WhiskyNotes.be – Ruben reviews the Sherrywood release. While I thought the Sherrywood really closed the flavor profile gap between the other Penderyn expressions and Scotch whisky, Ruben still finds it quite different. He gives it 82 points.
  • Whisky Boys – The Whisky “Boys” do a Double Welsh Whisky Tasting of Peated and Sherrywood, much preferring the Sherrywood expression.

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