Archive for the ‘review’ Category


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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Last year, after following Feis Ile vicariously through other blog posts, I ordered some festival samples, including the Laphroaig Cairdeas [car-chase] 2009 release, which I did a post on here . I went to do the same this year for the 2010 release, and discovered that whiskysamples.eu had a few extra samples of the 2009 Cairdeas in stock as well, so I ordered both. I decided to compare both of the Cairdeas cask strength releases with the standard Laphroaig 10 CS Batch 001 release to see how they stacked up.

The 2009 Cairdeas release was a 12 year, specially selected by John Campbell, distillery manager for Laphroaig. The 2010 release was created by Master Distiller Robert Hicks, and is a vatting of first-fill and refill bourbon casks ranging from 11 to 19 years old. All three of the sampled cask strength Laphroaigs fall between 57% and 58% ABV.

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2009 and 2010

Tasting Notes

10 year CS Batch 001 (57.8%) – A phenol-lover’s delight. Iodine, campfire smoke, tar, and cedar wood stand out on the nose, contrasted against a sweet background with a little bit of fruit (apples?). Plenty of tar on the palate, with a good pepper and alcohol kick. The finish is long and smoky, with the tar and cedar wood coming through loud and clear. 88 Points.

Cairdeas 2009 12 year (57.5%) – Start with the traits of the 10 CS, but add more wood influence, with an especially striking helping of vanilla on the nose. It also seems to have slightly less smoke/tar. The palate and finish are again similar to 10 CS, but with more pepper. Just the right amount of pepper, in fact. My mouth is tingling just thinking about how this one went down, and how alive it made my tongue feel. Great balance! 90 Points.

Cairdeas Master Edition 2010 (57.3%) – Surprisingly close to the 10 CS again, considering this one was made from a vatting of different aged and types of casks. The main difference being that this Feis Ile release is more fruity. Citrus and/or apples are present, taking a bit of the edge off of the phenol attack. Not as much vanilla as the 2009 Feis Ile bottling, and not as much pepper, either. 88 Points.

Bottom Line

The Feis Ile cask strength Lapharoaigs are excellent, and totally worth the festival asking prices of around $60-$70. I especially like the 2009 bottling, and kind of wish I had bought a bottle for $100 when I had the chance last year. The extra vanilla and the brilliant mouth feel, combined with the fact that it’s a limited release, make it worth seeking out. The 2010 version, while a bit more fruity than the standard 10 CS, didn’t strike me as necessarily “better.”

While I think the 2009 Cairdeas is worth a little bit of a premium, I would not consider paying high eBay prices for either of the Feis Ile releases. The standard 10 CS is more than good enough to satisfy my cravings for a cask strength Laphroaig experience. I also find that I can get a little bit of additional complexity (vanilla/fruit) by vatting 2 parts 10 CS and 1 part Laphroaig 18 year. It’s not quite on par with the 2009 Feis Ile experience, but still very good. Not sure if I’m venturing into heretic territory by suggesting such a home vatting, though…

Other Opinions

Check out these great reviews of the same expressions on two of my favorite whisky review sites:

Whisky Fun10 CS Batch 001 (Great point about the medicinal notes being “whiffs” rather than in your face); Cairdeas 12 2009 (and 10 CS Batch 001)

WhiskyNotes.be10 CS Batch 001 (87 pts); Cairdeas 12 2009 (88 pts); Cairdeas master Edition 2010 (86 pts & comparison with ’08/’09)


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I bought a 200ml bottle of JW Gold a while back to see what all of the fuss was about (people seem to rave over this particular expression relative to the more expensive JW Blue). I also have a 200ml bottle of JW Blue that I got from, of all people, a marketing firm representing Chivas Regal. I got it along with a 200ml Chivas 18 bottle just before Christmas, as did a bunch of other online bloggers and spirits writers. I find the Gold/Blue comparison much more interesting than Chivas 18/JW Blue, so that’s what I’m going to write about in this post.

Johnnie Walker's Gold and Blue

Taste Comparison


  • JW Gold – Slightly medicinal, earthy peat, and some smoke. There is also some toffee sweetness and wood of the cedar block variety. There really seems to be a strong Talisker presence.
  • JW Blue – There is peat and smoke, but it’s more subdued than with Gold. Then a really rich vanilla and dried red fruits. You really have to stick your nose in there and take a big whiff to get the most of it. There is also a really nice cinnamon/nutmeg presence.
  • Comments – On first sniff, the Gold stands out, and would probably appeal more to the single malt aficionado. Though more subtle, the Blue is overall darker, richer and more complex. More luxurious, if you will.


  • JW Gold – Ugh…what happened? It’s totally flat, like a Talisker watered down to 15% abv. Nothing offensive, but pretty forgettable.
  • JW Blue – Much thicker palate than the Gold, with a nice sweet peat flavor. There’s some white pepper that adds life to the party, but doesn’t overwhelm.
  • Comments – Big win for J.W. Blue.


  • JW Gold – A nice burst of peaty smoke rushes up the back of the nostrils. On the tongue, however, it continues to be flat, leaving a grainy taste on the tongue that reminds me of a younger blend.
  • JW Blue – More subtle hints of smoke in the nostrils, with hints of peat and toffee sticking to the tongue for a while. No graininess or anything off-putting.
  • Comments – The Gold was off to a great start, but screamed blend on the tongue. Neither one of these stands out on the finish relative to a good single malt, but your occasional drinker friends will delight in proclaiming how smooth the JW Blue is.


The bottling code on my 200ml bottle of Johnnie Walker Gold starts with L4, which I understand to mean it was bottled in 2004. When I read  reviews of J.W. Gold by Jim Murray, Paul Pacult, and by numerous single malt aficionados on message boards, I can’t help but wonder if something less than ideal happened to my bottle between the time it was produced and the time I bought it. I mean, it’s got a great nose, and the finish has its moments, but it’s otherwise so flat, I find it hard to believe it would get such raves. I like it just fine, and would probably give it a solid 84 points on my scale. It would need a much more memorable palate and finish to rate more highly.

Johnnie Walker Blue provides a thoroughly enjoyable blended whisky experience. Where as the Gold had me imagining I could taste specific distilleries…Talisker, Oban or Clynelish, etc., the Blue had me thinking of the actual flavors…smoke, berries, spices. It has been blended into its own flavor profile that hits on a lot of notes that I tend to favor. The nose is a bit reserved, but it rewards time and effort. There’s enough complexity to keep you interested for a while, and it’s super smooth. Just right for the occasional scotch drinker who wants to experience a luxury spirit. I’m going to rate it 88 points.

Is the J.W. Blue worth the $175 – $225 price that it typically commands? On taste alone, of course not. But that’s not the point. As a gift to impress somebody, the Blue Label should satisfy, with its distinctive packaging and prominent recognition (due to great marketing). I’d much rather drink Laphroaig 30 year, which was going for $200 to $250 a couple of years back, but will the occasional drinker appreciate that one as much? What about the fact that you’re going to have to sit there and explain to them why it’s a “special” whisky, and why it’s about the spirit inside, not the bottle/box it comes in? I don’t have any immediate plans to purchase a 750ml bottle of J.W. Blue, but I don’t have any issue with others doing so, and if I were to get this as a gift, I’d be very appreciative and enjoy drinking it. There’s definitely a place for a whisky like this, and I think it hits the mark for what they’re trying to accomplish.


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Happy Independence Day, America!

Ok, so I’m a bit late with this one. I actually wrote up my notes on the 4th, but didn’t get around to finishing the post until today…

Four outstanding American whiskies

After a recent purchase of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 year bourbon, I realized that I now have four premium, wheated bourbons to compare (I’ve found that I tend to prefer wheated bourbons to rye). Four great American whiskies for July 4th? Perfect! I compared the PVW to William Larue Weller 2009 release, Jefferson’s Presidential Select 17 year, and Parker’s Heritage Golden Anniversary. Ok, I guess I haven’t read anything about the use of rye and/or wheated bourbon barrels in the Parker’s release, but it sure tastes like a wheated bourbon. [Update: They’re making a big deal about the fact that the 4th edition of Parker’s Heritage is going to be a wheated bourbon, so maybe the Golden Anniversary is all/primarily rye. Fooled me.]

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 year ($55 – $75) is a regular bottling, but it seems to come out in relatively small batches and sells out quickly (at least here in AZ). According to the bottle, it’s based on the same recipe as the PVW 20 year, just aged for a shorter period. It’s bottled at 107 proof (53.5% abv). This bourbon has a great mixture of fruit and spice, with some definite wood influence (but not too much) in the form of vanilla and oak. Extremely balanced, it hits the palate just right, with a good zip on the tongue, but not so much as to need water. Rye bourbons are known as the spicy ones, with wheaters being sweet. In this case, there’s a nice nutmeg spice on the tongue along with the maple syrup sweetness. Again, just wonderful balance. The finish medium-long and it’s all good. No bad after-taste at all. I haven’t tried the 20 year, but I can’t help but wonder if this bottling is the sweet spot in the range. There’s plenty of wood influence, and I wonder if the 20 year would come across as a little less balanced. Plus, it’s an extra $50 or so for that one.

William Larue Weller (2009) ($65 – $85) is part of the annual Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC). Bottled at 134.8 proof (67.4% abv) in 2009, this whiskey is bottled at barrel proof and only minimally filtered to remove the bigger pieces of char. This release and George T. Stagg, a rye bourbon (also of the BTAC collection), are about as close as you can get to buying a Buffalo Trace whiskey straight out of the barrel. I enjoy drinking WLW neat now and then, just for a bit of a thrill on my tongue, but for this comparison, I watered it down to around 100 proof. At this proof, it’s really not that different from the PVW 15. I want to say the WLW is a little more fruity, while the Van Winkle provides a touch more spice. What the Weller provides that the PVW can’t is the occasional thrill of drinking it neat. It’s a pretty amazing experience, as it’s incredibly drinkable, even if it does kill off the taste buds after about 5 minutes. 🙂

Jefferson’s Presidential Select 17 year ($75 – $100) is a special release of Stitzel-Weller juice from right before Stitzel-Weller stopped operating. Bottled at 94 proof, my bottle is #505 from Batch No. 2 (out of 7 or 8 batches, I believe). The Jefferson’s has a similar backbone to the WLW 2009, but brings out even more red fruits on the nose. Even though it’s bottled at 17 years, there’s less raw oak on the nose than either of the previous two. How did they manage that? It’s sweet on the palate, with a little less spice than the other two expressions, but still well balanced. A medium, sweet finish leaves the tongue watering and wanting more. There’s not a very strong drying sensation. This bourbon has plenty of complexity, yet goes down sooooo easy. A great bottle to share with aficionados and occasional drinkers for a special occasion.

Parker’s Heritage Collection (Third Edition) “Golden Anniversary” ($135 – $150) is a tribute to master distiller Parker Beam, and contains whiskey from 5 decades, with the majority of the whiskey aged between 10 and 20 years. You can see the full press release here. The nose on this whiskey is flat-out amazing. Easily the most complex of the bunch. All of the fruit and spices of the others, plus a stand-out vanilla and orange combination that John Hansell described well as Orange Creamsicle. There surely isn’t much of the older whiskies in here, as the oak, while present, is completely tamed. What’s amazing here is that there is so much vanilla and cocoa, but so little raw oak/cedar. It’s like they figured out a secret to keeping the best of the barrel influence and weeding out the questionable stuff. The palate and finish lie somewhere in between the somewhat mellow Jefferson’s and the other two expressions, with nice spices, medium drying, and a medium-long finish. Just outstanding.

Comparative thoughts: These are all really amazing bourbons, and well worth their higher prices as far as I’m concerned. The only warning I would offer is that the Jefferson’s Presidential Select reminds me a bit of Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist. It’s complex, balanced, and highly drinkable, yet when doing head-to-head comparisons, it can come off as being a little flat. I still strongly recommend it, but drink it on its own and appreciate it for what it is. Moving on, Pappy Van Winkle 15 and William Larue Weller kind of scratch the same itch for me. However, I was really impressed with how perfect the bottling proof is for the PVW. The WLW 2009 is totally worth purchasing, and offers a unique strength for a wheated bourbon, but if you missed out on it, don’t fret too much. Just go buy a bottle of PVW 15 and enjoy the spicy/fruity/oaky balance. The Parker’s Heritage is really expensive, but totally unique in flavor and creation process. Only you can decide if it’s worth paying that much for a bourbon. If you do buy it, and you usually drink bourbon from a tumbler, try pouring some of this in a brandy or scotch nosing glass. Sit back, and take in that incredible aroma.

Update: For my own tastes, I would put these bourbons primarily in the B+ range relative to the scotch whiskies I’ve rated, with the Parker’s Heritage sneaking up into full A- territory with the likes of HP 18 and Dalmore Mackenzie. A year ago, I thought of bourbons as more of a second-class citizen. Pleasant enough, but even the good ones were “B” whiskies. I’ve really warmed up to the bourbon profile (especially wheated ones) in recent months.


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Dalmore Mackenzie

Last year, on my 40th birthday, I treated myself to a bottle of Laphroaig 30 year and had a “scotch party” to share it with friends. That was actually my first birthday as a “scotch drinker.” I decided I liked the idea of celebrating my birthday with a special, limited edition bottling. I didn’t want to spend quite as much this year, but was keeping my eye out for the right whisk(e)y when The Dalmore announced the pending release of “Mackenzie” in March. Priced at around $125 (although not available in the U.S.), Mackenzie is a limited release of 3,000 bottles, all individually numbered with a special molten metal stag on the bottle.

Specially crafted by Master Distiller Richard Paterson, the Mackenzie started its maturation process in American white oak casks in 1992. After 11 years, it was put into fresh port pipes for another 7 or so years and bottled at 46%. Additionally, each bottle comes with a card, instructing the purchaser how to get a free limited edition print (12″x16″) of the famous “Fury of the Stag” painting that is also printed on the box. Finally, a portion of the proceeds go to The Mackenzie Clan, with whome the Dalmore distillery has long been affiliated. You can read more about the bottling, the painting, and the release party in this article at Luxist.com.

Tasting and Comparing

Oh, this is a good one!

The nose is rich and fruity, with lots of dried red fruits. The Dalmore citrus is apparently toned down quite a bit from the time in port casks. Not as much sherry sweetness as in the Dalmore 21 year. Actually, this is VERY close in character to Highland Park 18, including a hint of smoke. The HP has an earthy component not present in Mackenzie, but everything else is there. Actually, the nose on Mackenzie is not quite as expressive as the other whiskies I’m comparing it to, but stick your nose in there and spend some time with it and it’s well worth the effort.
The palate has good body and retains the fruity character. As it passes towards the back of the tongue, a nice spiciness takes hold. Bottling this at 46% was an excellent choice!
On the finish, the spices carry on through, joined again by red fruits, oak and a hint of smoke. When comparing directly to Dalmore 21, I thought the Mackenzie presented cherries on the finish as well. I haven’t read anything about Dalmore using peat like HP does, but I keep thinking there’s some hidden in here. Maybe it’s just the interaction of the oak with the spirit? It lasts every bit as long as the HP 18 and Dalmore 21. A very enjoyable finish.

Mackenzie and Dalmore 21

Comments: This is only my third Dalmore (after the 12 and 21 year bottlings), but it’s now my reference for this distillery. The only negative I took away during comparisons was that I had to work harder to coax out the nose. Overall, I like this better than the 21 year. I think the Dalmore 21 falls squarely in the “dessert malt” category. The Mackenzie certainly can be used in this way, but I think it’s more versatile, like HP 18. Now, between Mackenzie and HP 18, it’s pretty close to a draw, though I’m leaning slightly towards Mackenzie because of the extra oomph provided by the 3% additional ABV. Thank you Richard Paterson for crafting this delightful malt…more like this, please!


  • Score: 90/100 (A-) After comparing this directly to HP 18, I might consider dropping my score on that one from 90 to 89. They’re very close, though.
  • Bottom Line: Outstanding balance, and great use of Port casks. Maybe it’s the 46% bottling, but there’s an extra kick on the late palate and early finish that I haven’t experienced from other Dalmores. I’m going to miss this bottle when it’s gone.
  • Value: Ok, this isn’t cheap, and if you’re in the U.S., you’re going to have to pay shipping from Europe. However, when you combine the nice packaging, contribution to the Mackenzie Clan, and of course, the great taste, I think it’s a treat well worth the asking price. Given all of the $500+ “special releases” floating around these days, I’d be happy to see more like this one.

Other opinions

  • Luxist.com – I linked to them up at the top of the article. They’re quite impressed with this one as well.
  • What Does John Know – 91 points here. Another very positive review!
  • whisky-pages.com (scroll down) – Rating this the same as Gran Reserva, they also noted smoke and cherries (glace).

Mackenzie Box

Card depicting 'Fury of the Stag' painting

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The Last Drop Whisky

I guess I never did a write-up on the local Compass Box tasting at Sportsman’s I went to a couple of months ago. I’ll have to pull out my notes and do that. That tasting serves as a good example of why I love to get out there and be a part of the “whisky community.” First, I got to try Spice Tree, which still hasn’t made it to Arizona. Second, I scored the last few milliliters of a miniature bottle of The Last Drop (along with the bottle) from one of the guys at the store. It was only around 7 or 8 ml…just enough for one swirl around the tongue and down the hatch. But hey, at $2,000 a bottle, and only 348 bottles imported to the U.S., just being able to take a whiff of it was a special treat, let alone taste it.

Three industry veterans scoured the Scottish countryside before happening upon the three casks that make up this release in an Auchentoshan warehouse. The casks contained a blend of around 70 malt whiskies and 12 grain whiskies, originally distilled in 1960 or earlier. In 1972, then blended whisky was moved into fresh Sherry butts where it sat until being “discovered” in 2008. This truly is a rarity, and a one of a kind bottling. For more on the story, check out this interesting article Bostonist.com, or check out the various information pages at lastdropdistillers.com.

Tasting Notes

Not a tasting note, but check out the color in the picture. I don’t believe I’ve quite seen that shade of brown in a Scotch whisky before.

  • On the nose, the first thing that hit me was that I seemed to be smelling a bourbon, not a Scotch. A very nice bourbon, mind you. It’s sweet, with dark fruit, cinnamon and toffee. Definitely oaky, like you might get from a really good 17-20 year bourbon. You can tell it was aged in sherry casks, too, but I don’t think I would ever guess 36 years worth.
  • On the palate, it coats the tongue nicely, with a reasonably thick feel. So smooth and easy on the tongue, yet still very present, with a nice tingle on the sides of the tongue like there’s a bit of pepper, followed by drying. Argh…after nosing this periodically for a couple of weeks before finally drinking it, I sure wish I had more than a few ounces so I could give it another go!
  • The finish is where this whisky stops seeming like a bourbon, and asserts itself as a very old scotch whisky. It’s what i imagine a 30 year old Aberlour a’bunadh would be like. Again, my small sample is gone all too quickly, but fortunately, it’s lingering for a good long time.

I mentioned a theoretical 30 year Aberlour a’bunadh in the “finish” notes. Based on my very small sample, if I were to try to come up with my own recipe to mimic this blended scotch, it would be a vatting of Parker’s Heritage Golden Anniversary bourbon and a little bit of that imaginary 30 year a’bunadh. Maybe it’s because I’ve really come to appreciate good bourbon lately, but this whisky hit all of the right notes for me.


I’m in love with this whisky. I love the taste. I love the exclusivity of it. I love the simplicity of the packaging. The attitude of the guys I talked to at the Compass Box tasting, who had already tried it, was that it is a good whisky, but no way is it worth the price. I totally get that. I mean, is it really worth almost an order of magnitude more than I paid for my Laphroaig 30 year, based on taste alone? No way. However…

The Last Drop combines a great story with a rich, yet accessible taste. It’s one of those whiskies that you can sit with and nose in the evening while listening to your favorite music and contemplating life. Even better, it would be a great whisky to share with close friends on a special occasion. It’s so well balanced and free of “nasties” that any whisk(e)y drinker should be able to enjoy it. Granted, some will find it lacking if they prefer certain big flavors like peat, but that shouldn’t stop them from being able to enjoy it. What’s especially unique about this whisky is the way it can appeal to both bourbon and scotch drinkers. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it, and I guess there’s a good chance I never will again.

A HUGE thank-you to Bill at Sportsman’s for letting me try this.


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SMOS Caol Ila 1991 18 Year

I’m a big Caol Ila fan, starting with the 12 year standard expression. When I first started getting into Islay malts, trying to figure out what to make of the strong, tarry, oily notes of Laphroaig and Ardbeg, I tried Caol Ila and was immediately impressed by the ashy coal smoke finish. The citrus also seemed to compliment it well. There just wasn’t anything negative going on there. My favorite Caol Ila so far isn’t actually labeled as a Caol Ila…it’s the Port Askaig 17 year by Specialty Drinks, sister company to The Whisky Exchange. When the opportunity came up to get a sample of the Single Malts of Scotland (SMOS) Caol Ila 18 year, distilled in 1991, I jumped on it [Thanks Tim!]. SMOS is another range bottled by Specialty Drinks, and seems to be well regarded. This bottle currently sells for £47.82 excluding VAT, and also currently comes with a free tasting glass (a special deal for any SMOS purchase).

Tasting Notes

Caol ila 1991 18 Year old (Specialty Drinks SMOS); Cask# 194/200; 56.1%

Nose: Initially, fresh oak and peat, with underlying citrus. After a few minutes in the glass, the oak turns more to vanilla. Overall, it’s kind of muted. You really have to stick your nose in there and spend some time searching. Also, the citrus is toned WAY down compared to regular Caol Ilas.
Palate: More juicy now, peat still, and some white pepper. Bigger than the nose let on. Packs a punch similar to Lagavulin 12, and perfectly drinkable at full strength if you’re used to high proof whiskies. Not harsh in any way.
Finish: That classic Caol Ila ashy smoke is in full force here, along with some lingering pepper on the tongue. The smoke lasts a long time, and it’s very “pure.” No young, spirity notes at all. A peat smoke lover’s delight!


I really like this whisky. I was surprised to find the citrus turned down a couple of notches from other Caol Ilas I’ve had, but the great mouth feel and long, smoky finish are a real treat. What especially stands out is the purity of the peat smoke finish. I’ve had younger high-peat whiskies (like Kilchoman) that have an almost one-note ash smoke finish, but they all have a youthful, “spirity” counterpart.  Not here. The only thing keeping this from an A rating in my book is that the nose could be more expressive, and it’s not super complex (but not completely one-note either). As a fan of the Caol Ila brand of peat smoke, and big, cask-strength palate attacks, I’d rate this in the B+ range. I think I need to buy a bottle of this.


This was a big enough sample that I was able to taste it over three sessions. I’m going to go ahead and do the full rating thing…

  • Score: 88/100 points (B+) [My personal score relative to other whiskies I’ve tried]
  • Bottom Line: A little muted on the nose, but great mouth feel and gets my tongue all a-tingle. Brilliant ashy, coal-dust, peat-smoke finish if you’re into that sort of thing.
  • Rate higher if: You’re a huge peat-head, and the palate/finish are much more important than the nose.
  • Rate lower if: The muted nose is going to bug you; you want more than peat smoke on the finish.
  • Value: The Whisky Exchange is selling this SMOS 18 year for the same price as the standard distillery 18 year. Given that I like the standard 12 better than the 18, and I like this SMOS 18 better than the 12 [OB 18 < OB 12 < SMOS 18], I’d call this a good value. A special treat to share with your peat-smoke loving friends. Only 620 bottles available.


I sampled this alone, and along side Caol Ila 12 (43%), Port Askaig 17 (46%) and Lagavulin 12 (57.9%). The family resemblance with the other Caol Ilas is there, but the big ABV difference separates them, and the citrus influence is much bigger in the lower proof whiskies. Also, the Port Askaig 17 offers up just as big of a smoky finish, but it’s more complex. The only thing the PA 17 lacks is the big mouth feel from the high ABV. PA 17 is the first whisky review where I tried to start doing ratings. I gave it an 89…probably should have been a 90.

Frankly, I think the profile of this SMOS 18 year is closest to the Lagavulin 12, though the Laga 12 is more expressive on the nose, and has just a hint of “youth” on the peat smoke finish. The feel in the mouth is very similar, as is the focus on ashy peat smoke, with other flavors toned down in comparison. I’d rate the Laga 12 a point or two higher for additional expressiveness on the nose, and perhaps a touch more complexity.

Other Opinions

I can’t find any reviews of this particular bottling…not even on the Whisky Exchange site. However, Serge at WHISKYFUN.COM rated two SMOS 16 Year expressions (here and here), as well as a 17 Year, all from 1991 and bottled in 2007/2008. You can see that Serge also mentions a toned down nose on the 17 year, which seems to have carried over into this one. He rates the 17 year at 85 points, marking it down because of the nose, but it sure sounds like he enjoyed it more than that.

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Kilchoman, the 8th distillery on Islay, does not have any expressions available in the United States yet, but if you act fast upon a new release, you can place orders and have them shipped from the UK. By “act fast,” I mean make sure you either have one reserved ahead of time, or place an order the day of release. It’s looking like they plan to do 3 or 4 limited (8,500 to 10,000 bottles) releases per year. The next release will be coming out in March. I’ve already written a few blog posts about Kilchoman, including a review if the Inaugural release. In November, Kilchoman came out with their second official wide-release bottling, called the “Autumn 2009 Release.”

In this blog post, I’ll compare these two releases (thanks to Jason at WHISKYhost for the Autumn 2009 sample). I actually have a bottle of this release now, but haven’t decided if/when to open it yet [I know…don’t become an evil collector :-)]. The Inaugural was matured for approximately 3 years and then finished for 5 months in Oloroso sherry casks. The Autumn 2009 release was also matured for 3 years, then finished for 3 months in Oloroso sherry casks. Additionally, there is one refill bourbon cask mixed into the Autumn vatting.

Kilchoman Inaugural vs Kilchoman Autumn 2009

Tasting Notes

Kilchoman Inaugural Release: See notes in this previous post.

Kilchoman Autumn 2009 Release; OB; 46%; Approximately $60

Nose: A significant helping of cinnamon and apples to go with the earthy peat and ashy smoke. Also some additional spiciness (nutmeg). Seems more mature than the Inaugural release.
Palate: Sweet peat, still some light spices, but not as peppery as the Inaugural.
Finish: Peat and ashy smoke coming up into the nostrils, accompanied by a slightly eggy component…the missing youth from the nose. There’s still some sweetness and cinnamon hanging around, and the peat smoke lasts for a long time.


This is really good, and the sherry finish provides some very obvious added complexity. The spiciness that’s added to this release reminds me of how the Madeira finish impacts the latest Balvenie 17 year. The palate seemed a little more tame than I expected…I guess that came with some of the smoothing on the nose. However, the finish is lengthy, with plenty of smoke for the peat lover. As always, I won’t provide a number score when I’m only tasting a sample, but looking through my scoring spreadsheet, it’s probably in the 84/85 range relative to the other whiskies I’ve had. A solid B in my book, and amazing for a three year!

Note: I gave the Inaugural Release 84 points in my previous review. I had commented that it felt like an 81 pointer, but gave it 3 bonus points for the long, peaty finish. In hindsight, given that I’m not inclined to go higher with the Autumn Release score, I would probably subtract one or two of those bonus points for the Inaugural.

Comparing to the Inaugural Release

I had already read other Kilchoman reviews, and people seemed to be liking the Autumn release better than the Inaugural. Still, I was surprised at how much the nose had changed. Maybe I should have suspected as much when I put the bottles next to each other and saw how much darker the Autumn release is. Given that the Autumn release actually spent two months LESS in sherry casks at the end, they surely did something different with regards to first-fill vs refill?

Two things stand out immediately when comparing the Autumn release to the Inaugural. First is the lack of “egginess” that I was picking up on the Inaugural. It didn’t really bother me much when trying the Inaugural alone, but head-to-head, I really appreciate the perceived maturity of the Autumn release. Second, the extra spices in the Autumn release make it much less of a one trick pony. I mean, this is still a whisky for peat lovers, but that’s not all it has to offer. The one area that the Inaugural beats out the Autumn release is in the impact on the tongue. It’s more drying and has more pepper, giving a very enjoyable boost that I wish was still there in the Autumn release. Two steps forward, one step back, I suppose.

I did discover something new about the Inaugural release when doing the head-to-head…a very slight farminess on the nose and finish that I had never picked up before.

Other Opinions

  • WHISKYhost – Jason at WHISKYhost did a comparison right after the Autumn 2009 release came out. He also liked this release better than the Inaugural.
  • WhiskyNotes – Ruben likes the Autumn release better, mentioning a lack of “new make” notes. He also finds something soapy on the palate, which I did not pick up. His notes pretty much nailed it. I find myself agreeing with his notes more than any other reviewer.
  • Whisky Israel – Gal, over at Whisky Israel REALLY likes this release. But then, he’s a total peat freak. 😉
  • Master of Malt – Some nice tasting notes on the Master of Malt web site. I bought didn’t get my bottle from them, but I heard that their buying experience is fantastic.

Back of Kilchoman Autumn 2009 release box

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Brora 30 (2007). A bit darker than the 2009 release.

This is a follow-up post to my previous one, in which I sampled the Brora 30 year 2009 release. I just got my hands on a sample of the 2007 release (thanks Bryan!) and wanted to share my notes on this one as well. However, what I really want to draw your attention to is an excellent “Say What!?” guest post on the WHISKYhost blog by Ruben of WhiskyNotes.be fame. He talks about this concept of “farmy” notes in a whisky, which on the surface might sound off-putting, but is actually considered a desirable quality by many whisky drinkers.

Ruben notes [you checked out the “Say What!?” link above, right?] that in a  sherry-matured whisky, any existing farmy notes can be amplified by the possible presence of sulphur. I think this is what happened when I noted a pungent “dairy farm” component on the nose of Lagavulin 21. At times, it was a bit too much for me. As you’ll see, the Brora 30 does not reach this extreme.

Tasting Notes

Note: I’ll be referencing the 2009 release, as well as the Signatory Brora that I talked about in the previous post.

Brora 30 Year (2007); OB; 55.7%; Bottle 2814 of 2958; $400+

Nose: No butterscotch like the 2009. This jumps straight to the oak (stronger oak than the 2009 release) and rich vanilla, with a Talisker-like, earthy peat along side. It then gets a bit more “farmy” than the 2009. Not so much to the point of manure, but certainly hay and the presence of animals.
Palate: Juicy, with an oily coat on the tongue. You get the sense of earthy peat here, too. Not quite as much pepper as on the 2009 release, it seems.
Finish: As soon as you start to swallow, the peat and farmy notes rush up the back of the nostrils, hanging there for a medium to long duration. There’s also a sweetness and oakiness, but the oak isn’t as big as it was on the nose. The farmy profile is similar to the nose, but with more attack here in the finish. It’s still not over the top for me, though.


Yes, this 2007 release is more farmy than the 2009 version. However, this is still one cool, sophisticated customer. Not nearly as rowdy as the Signatory 21 year. I didn’t really notice any mint in this one, which is a HUGE part of the Signatory profile, and still subtly present in the 2009 release. If you’re familiar with the peating level of the standard Clynelish and Oban releases, the peat in this Brora is stronger than that. However, it’s not as strong as younger, standard Islay or Talisker releases. 30 years of maturation probably has something to do with that.

I’m really glad I got to try this release. From other descriptions, I feared that I might find this one off-putting. However, the farmy qualities are not such that it makes you snap your head back from the glass. Rather, it puts you in an outdoors frame of mind, perhaps being at or near a ranch. That, combined with the rich vanilla, mature wood notes and peat makes the overall experience very enjoyable. I would rank this very close to the 2009 release. Another A- in my book.

Other Opinions

  • WhiskyNotes.be – Along with his “Say What!?” guest post, Ruben posted a review of this Brora 2007 release on his own blog. He clearly likes it better than the 2009 release. I’m still on the fence, and it might come down to mood.
  • WHISKYFUN.COM – (Scroll down to the “Bonus” review) Serge also rates this 2007 version a couple of points higher than the 2009 version. Now I’m really starting to wish I still had a little of the 2009 left from last week for a head-to-head comparison.
  • Malt Advocate – A short and sweet review by John Hansell, where he hands out 95 points and calls it “Brora at its finest.”
  • whisky connosr – Here’s a review from somebody on connosr.com (I have an account there, where I keep a list of my open bottles). They found the peat and farm notes to be more in-your-face than I did.
  • Whisky Bible – No online review link, but Jim Murray rated this one at 88.5. Good, but below the other Brora releases he has reviewed. He felt that the oak was a bit tired and “off.”

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Brora 30 2009

I’m tasting the Brora 30 Year 2009 Special Release from Diageo via another 30 ml sample from whiskysamples.eu. I’ve been holding onto this sample for a few months until I got around to purchasing a bottle of Clynelish 14. Having seen other people refer to this 2009 release as being more Clynelish-like than previous 30 year old Broras, I wanted to see what that means. I have tried one other Brora before…a 21 year from Signatory. I like it, but don’t love it. Therefore, I’ve not been quite as anxious to get my hands on a Brora special release as I have been for the likes of Port Ellen, Talisker and Lagavulin. However, having now tried this expression, I realize that I SHOULD have been more anxious to try it.

Tasting Notes

Brora 30 Year (2009 Release); OB; 53.2%; 2652 Bottles

Nose: My very first impression is of butterscotch. With some time, it turns into a rich vanilla with oak and smoke. Also some mint. Possibly some fruit trying to break through, bringing peaches and creme to mind. Maybe I just “want” there to be fruit, though. A tiny bit farmy and medicinal during my comparisons to other malts.
Palate: A great mouth coating. Very rich, yet gentle. I’m easily brought back to butterscotch here…with some peat and a late pepper entry. With more than this small sample to try, and additional tasting sessions, I could imagine the butterscotch coming across as juicy ripe fruits.
Finish: Probably my favorite part of this one. The sweets and oak from the nose come back (oak more prominent than on the nose), but the light smoke is now clearly peaty. An earthy peat reminiscent of Talisker, but dialed way down.


What a wonderful whisky, showing obvious maturity and tons of subtle complexity. The rich butterscotch/vanilla and well controlled oak remind me of the Cragganmore 40 year I bought a while back (G&M Secret Stills 2.2). I’ve heard tales of oak taking over and ruining “old” whiskies, but that’s certainly not a problem here. I would love to have a bottle of the Brora 30 to pour a glass from at night and sit with over a long period, listening to classic jazz. Easily worth 90/91 points if I had more than a 30 ml sample to base my opinion on, so I’ll go with an A- letter rating.


I can’t fault the $400 price tag, as that’s not unusual for a 30 year ongoing releases, let alone one from a closed distillery like Brora. However, as good as this is, if I could pick just one 30 year old in this price range, it would be a stronger offering from the likes of Talisker or Lapharoaig. While the subtle peat in the Brora is exactly the kind I like, I felt like it was teasing me…urging me to seek out that characteristic in a fuller form. Of course, this is an entirely personal reaction.


I got a generous sample of a Signatory Brora 21 year from a friend a while back, and it surprised me with strong mint (as if mint has been infused into the whisky) and a sharp farmy quality. Comparing it side-by-side with this 30 year release, the 21 year isn’t nearly as sophisticated. I wonder if I would have noticed the light mint on the 30 year if I had never tasted this 21 year variant. Some folks would most likely prefer the more in your face nature of the Signatory 21 to the subtle charms of the Brora 30. If it was the peat that was turned up, I might bite, but with the mint and farmy qualities, I’m in the more subtle Brora 30 camp.

I also compared to Clynelish 14 (Clynelish being the active sister distillery to Brora). There certainly seem to be similarities in the underlying spirit. While the Brora struck me with butterscotch first, possibly turning to fruit later, the Clynelish seemed more fruity up front, but I could imagine some butterscotch there. I get a little bit of mint in the Clynelish as well. Clynelish has a little smoke, but lacks the earthy, Talisker-like peat that I got from the Brora (at least in side-by-side comparison). It’s no competition for the Brora 30, but the Clynelish is very nice for the price. I think a slight increase in peating level would do it wonders.

Other Opinions

The guys that actually know what they’re talking about are saying this is a less “farmy” Brora than previous 30 year special releases. For me, this one has just the right amount of that particular trait. It sounds like the 2008 25 year and this 30 year are the ones for me (if I suddenly come into some money). Although, I’d love to taste one of the old, more peaty Brora releases (distilled in the early ’70s?).

  • Whiskyfun – 91 points from Serge. More Clynelish and less Brora than previous bottlings, he says, but still excellent.
  • Malt Advocate – John Hansell really digs this one, and comments on how well it holds up for its age. 93 points!
  • WhiskyNotes – Just when I was wondering if the mint was all in my head, good ‘ol Ruben came through with a similar interpretation. 90 points, which means a lot coming from him!
  • Whisky For Everyone – Tasted along side the other Diageo Special Releases, Matt and Karen also noted a butterscotch-like sweetness and really enjoyed this expression.
  • caskstrength.net – Tasted along side the Talisker special releases, they went the citrus route, over my interpretation of butterscotch. Also stating that Springbank lovers should enjoy this Brora.
  • The Whisky Exchange Blog – Perhaps a little closer to my butterscotch…here we get condensed milk and tinned pears. Tim prefers this year’s Brora over last year’s 25 year and the 2007 30 year.
  • Whisky Whisky Whisky – Over on the W3 forums, butephoto praised the Brora 30. It sounds like he might have had a 30 ml sample like mine.

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