Archive for the ‘review’ Category


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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Following on my last post, a comparison of Feis Ile Laphroaig samples from whiskysamples.eu, I’m now comparing two cask strength Lagavulin samples. First up is a 1994/2010 for Feis Ile, bottled at 52.7%. There were only 528 total bottles in this release, and it’s coming from European Oak ex sherry casks.

Next, we have a No Age Statement (NAS) release, bottled in 2010, that is only available at the distillery. The 6,000 bottle run comes from casks that had been tagged to be part of the Distiller’s Edition release, but according to Ruben at WhiskyNotes.be, they were too good for that general release vatting. He also states that they have been extra matured in sherry-seasoned American oak.

I compared both of these CS special releases with my bottles of standard Lagavulin 16 (2009) and Lagavulin DE (1991/2007).

Tasting Notes

Let’s start with the standard bottlings for reference…

Lagavulin 16 (2009) 43% – A nose you can get lost in. Fruit that starts as apples, then turns into dried red fruits, like there are some sherry casks involved. This is combined with sweet peat and iodine, and a subtle (for an Islay) smokiness that envelops the whole thing. Magical. The palate is thick and rich, and sweeter than the nose lets on. On the finish, peat and coal smoke galore, with a sweetness lingering on the tongue. My 2006 bottle had more caramel, to the point where it almost got in the way at the end. This 2009 bottling is more balanced. A true classic. 92 points.

Lagavulin DE (1991-2007) 43% – Another nose to sit with and take in for a long time. It has “in your face” sherry influences. The fruits are darker than the 16 year…dried fruits and over-ripe berries. Still medicinal and peaty. Neither of these standard Lagavulins have as much tar and coal smoke on the nose as younger Laphroaig and Ardbeg expressions, but it’s there in the background. Big, juicy, fruity peat on the palate. Then, on the finish, an explosion of earthy peat smoke takes over in the back of the nostrils, bouncing off of and mixing with the fruit on the tongue. Compared to the 16 year, this is equally captivating, but different. One of each, please! 92 points.

Lagavulin 1994/2010 for Feis Ile (52.7%) – The nose seems a little muted (compared to Laga 16 and DE). I’m getting sherry sweetness and peat, but also a fair amount of wood influence, with some cedar and vanilla (like a Laphroaig). The fruit flavors fall between Laga 16 and DE, but closer to the 16. There’s less iodine here and more coal smoke and tar. On the palate…wow! What a party on the tongue this expression is! Big impact, without being harsh. Great peppery spices. Heading into the finish, it starts to dry the tongue, but then suddenly the mouth waters. A different kind of Lagavulin magic! 92 points.

Lagavulin NAS 2010 Distillery Only (52.5%) – The nose is similar to the Feis Ile bottling in many ways. The fruits are darker, with a stronger red berry presence. It’s also a little sweeter. Similar on the palate and finish as well, but not quite as “magical.” It doesn’t have quite that same drying/watering combination on the tongue. Excellent, none-the-less, with great impact and a long finish. I would certainly buy a bottle given the chance. 91 points.

Comparison Notes

It seems like the Feis Ile expression is kind of a cask strength representation of the standard Laga 16, and the Distillery Only a stronger DE. When comparing all four together, the palate/finish stands out as being more impressive in the special edition bottlings.

Here’s the thing, though…when drinking Laga 16 and DE on their own, they don’t lack for presence on the palate, and the finish is long and brilliant. The standard bottlings also offer an improved experience on the nose (for me, anyway). The stronger alcohol in the cask strength offerings prevents me from really digging my nose in and getting lost in the aromas.

Perhaps there’s a magic combination of whisky and water that preserves the magic on the palate and brings out the aromas of the nose with these special releases. I didn’t have a large enough sample to experiment in this way, though. Therefore, I consider all of these whiskies to be on fairly equal footing. That being said, if you’re more about the palate/finish than the nose, I think the Feis Ile release shoots ahead of the others.

Other Opinions

As with the Laphroaig Feis Ile releases, you can find great notes at both whiskyfun.com and WhiskyNotes.be:

My friend Gal, over at whiskyisrael.co.il, also got a sample of the Distillery Only bottling. He really liked it, but perhaps enjoys the standard DE a little more. Hey…same conclusion! 🙂


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