Got this info from The Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America. You do NOT have to be a member to sign up.

Wish I could go…

SMWSA Tasting Invite

Join us as we sample 5 rare and unique Society offerings as well as expressions from the Dalmore & Isle of Jura Distilleries.

Dinner will be served to complement your evening’s enjoyment.

DATE: Tuesday, November 8, 2011
TIME: 7:00pm – 9:00pm. Registration begins at 6:30pm.

The Arizona Biltmore
2400 East Missouri Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85016

TICKET PRICE: $95.00 per person
Business Casual. Jackets Preferred. No denim or athletic attire.

To purchase tickets call 800.990.1991

Well, good timing with my previous post on the Mackinlay’s Shackleton whisky replica. It looks like the National Geographic Channel is airing a special on the Shackleton whisky discovery and replication process tonight. I’ll be watching..likely while enjoying a dram of The Dalmore. 🙂

[Edit: Oops! I accidentally posted this as a PBS special originally. It’s actually on the National Geographic channel.]

Here is the info from National Geographic:

Expedition Whisky
Premieres Thursday, November 3 at 8pm ET/PT
Battling subzero temperatures and using only rudimentary navigational tools, explorer Ernest Shackleton set the record for reaching the furthest south in 1908, just 97 miles from the South Pole.  The expedition was cut short by a lack of food, and Shackleton returned home to a hero’s welcome in England and was knighted by King Edward VII.  But apparently, Shackleton left behind a few “necessities” from his epic journey to the South Pole.  In 2006, Shackleton’s stash of Scotch was re-discovered beneath the hut he used as his base camp.  With rare archival material and the last remaining film footage of Shackleton and his crew, “Expedition Whisky” not only tells the amazing story of Shackleton’s most successful adventure and his secret stash of whisky, but also shows a world’s top taster on a mission to sniff out and remake the vintage.

Shackleton’s Whisky Recipe

Whisky Find of the Century



Mackinlay's Shackleton replica bottle

Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky is a replica of the whisky found under Earnest Shackleton’s hut in Antarctica, from an expedition in 1907. After some of the original whisky was very carefully thawed out, Master Blender Richard Paterson had the opportunity to try it, after which he created this replica whisky expression. It’s a limited edition of 50,000 bottles, and comes in really cool packaging. Bottled at 47.3% ABV, with no coloring or chill-filtering, it is now available in the U.S. for a pretty steep suggested retail of $200. Shopper’s Vineyard has it for $145, though.

I’ve been dying to get my hands on some of this whisky, but was not having much luck. First, I got an email out of the blue in April from the PR department at Whyte & Mackay saying that a sample was on its way, followed by an “oops” email that they couldn’t ship to the United States. Then I came across an opportunity to split in on a bottle and get 50ml for about $20 (including shipping from Netherlands). Well, I paid the money, but never saw a sample. I guess somebody working for the postal system got thirsty.

The sample I’m reviewing here came from the baddish group, who I believe handles PR for Whyte & Mackay products here in the U.S. Thank you Laura and Patty!

Tasting Notes

This is a blended malt (single malts only…not a traditional “blend”), with no age statement, but is said to contain malts ranging from 8 years to 30 years. The 30 year portion likely comes from Glen Mhor, which was one of the backbone distilleries for Mackinlay’s back in the day, but was shut down in 1983.

Mackinlay’s Shackleton replica whisky; 2011; 47.3% ABV; $150 – $200

Nose: Creme brulee sweetness (vanilla, caramel, and caramelized sugar), light peat smoke (like Highland Park, not Islay), something grassy and a little “wild”, polished wood and dusty books, and little bit of Dalmore chocolate orange.
Palate: The sweetness carries through, both caramel and chocolate. There is some nuttiness, and a hint of peat. It has an interesting way of being both easy going and untamed at the same time. Not sure how to describe the untamed part, except that it reminds me of Springbank 10 year.
Finish: Sweetness on the tongue, with earthy peat followed by tea and tobacco leaves lingering in the back of the nostrils. A great combination, except it dies off pretty quickly, just leaving some caramel flavor on the tongue.

Comments: The Shackleton replica vatting tastes to me like a high quality blend, composed of Dalmore 12, Highland Park St. Magnus, and a little Springbank 10, all laid down on a bed of good column still grain whisky to smooth things out and make it easy to drink. The Dalmore traits especially stand out, from the manner in which the sweet profile presents itself to the library and tea leaf notes. The smoke and grass combination is where HP St. Magnus comes in. Enjoyable from start to [a little disappointingly short] finish, this ranks as a high B whisky in my personal scoring system. 87 points.


I’m really glad I got a chance to try Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt. It’s a special whisky, for sure. While I mentioned a number of familiar components, the way they’re combined results in a unique and enjoyable profile. I hope Whyte & Mackay ends up making a standard release Mackinlay vatting or blend with as much of this flavor profile as they can squeeze in. I won’t be paying $150 for a bottle of this limited release expression (it’s going on my Christmas wish list, though), but I strongly recommend seeking it out in some manner. Whether that be via full bottle purchase, or through a local whisky club or bottle share.



Ok, it’s been a LONG while since Master of Malt announced their Blogger’s Blend contest. But dammit, I bought the samples and took my notes, and wrote most of this article 2 months ago, so I’m going to do a blog post on it. 🙂

In short, the idea behind the Blogger’s Blend is to have 10 popular whisky bloggers concoct their own blend from a special blending kit provided by Master of Malt. MoM would then package up samples of all 10 blends and let the people decide which is the best value for the money. The winner would be bottled and released by MoM. Pretty cool! The sample set was priced at around $48, taking conversion rate into account. Add shipping and you’re in the $70 neighborhood. Pretty steep, and I almost didn’t do it, but I wanted to support my fellow bloggers.

I thought about posting my notes on all of the blends, but most people are never going to have access to them all, and besides, there are already good accounts of the whole set available. Check out Whisky Notes for one of the best round-ups. I’m going to provide notes for Blend “I”, which is the one I picked as my favorite. The samples came with an information sheet, which listed the amount that each blend would cost if it wins. The prices range from £36 to £68, with Blend I priced at £55.

Tasting Notes

Nose: A little bit of lemon and coal smoke combination like Caol Ila. A little bit of tar like Laphroaig. Very relaxed, though, tamed perhaps by the grain and other malts in the blend.
Palate: Peaty, a little sweet, but most notable for what’s not there…I just don’t taste anything that reminds me of cheap grain whisky at all in this one.
Finish: Longer than many of the other Blogger Blends, but medium in the grand scheme. Smoke in the back of the nostrils that once again reminds me of Caol Ila. It’s peaty, yet delicate at the same time.

Comments: I swore going into this that I wouldn’t get sucked in by my islay-leaning preferences, but dang it…I love this whisky! Of all of the malts and blends I’ve tried over the past 3+ years, this might be the one that I would most like to use as an introduction to Islay peat smoke for smoky whisky newbies. It reminds me of Johnnie Walker Blue with its ability to present smoke on the nose and in the finish, while also going down smoothly and not overwhelming at any stage in the drinking process. Well done! A solid B rating in my book.


Since trying the set of blends and voting for Blend I as my favorite, I’ve learned that “I” was indeed the first place vote getter, and apparently by a wide margin. Well, at least if I was duped by the prominent use of Islay whisky, I wasn’t the only one. I really do think this offers an experience similar to what you get from JW Blue (but with a narrower flavor profile). I don’t think the Blogger’s Blend is as complex as the $200 Blue Label, but for the area where the two intersect, I think “Blogger’s Blend I” accomplishes the same feat of making a smoky whisky easy and enjoyable to drink (though Blend I leans more towards an Islay smoky profile than JW Blue). It has an easy going finish that will leave the occasional whisky drinker marveling at how “smooth” it is.

Unfortunately, another way it’s similar to JW Blue is that, as a whisky enthusiast, I’m having a hard time justifying the purchase of a bottle relative to the many brilliant single malts available at the same or lower price point. Actually, if I lived in the UK and could avoid the shipping cost, I would probably buy a bottle.

So, why did I choose one of the most expensive whiskies as the “winner”, when we’re supposed to be taking value into account? My justification is that even the least expensive blend is expensive by blend pricing standards. For comparison, many people think Johnnie Walker Gold is a good value at $70 relative to some super expensive whiskies, even though it’s 3.5 times more expensive than JW Black. That’s where I’m at with these blends. Blend I is to JW Gold as several of the other blends are to JW Black. It’s just that they’re all more expensive than I would like.


Sabbatical. That’s what I’ll call my scotch blog break over the past 7 weeks. I didn’t necessarily plan to take so much time off…a week of family vacation here, a business trip there, a couple of medical procedures that each prevented me from drinking anything for a week. When I did have a little free time, I was working on beefing up my JavaScript/CSS/HTML programming skills.

Now I’m back, and I have quite a few tasting notes to post. But first, a public answer to a question I get now and then via email…

Where do I buy my whisk(e)y?

I’ve blogged about far more whiskies than I have access to via local stores. I have people ask me where I find this stuff, especially the expressions that are only available overseas. I do have some links to online sites on my Whisky Resources page. However, let me discuss in a little more detail my purchasing approach.

Local Purchasing

For any more “common” expression, especially when it comes to bourbon, I will start out with my local stores. I also check in periodically with my local specialty liquor store for certain special releases, such as the Diageo releases in the Fall.

  • Total Wine & More: Here in AZ, this is the best priced big box store. They make their money on wine, offering up many scotch and bourbon expressions not much above their purchase price. I also like it that they have somebody like Greg Tuttle who is active on Twitter as @TotalWine, and has pushed for some in-store scotch tastings. They also have a deal going with Duncan Taylor’s Battlehill brand to offer up some unique one-off expressions, like the Caol Ila 25 year that my wife bought me for Christmas.
  • BevMo: I’ll periodically buy from here. There are a couple of expressions that are priced lower than Total Wine, but most are higher. I do have a membership and keep an eye out for coupons or special deals. Recently, they’ve also started offering some interesting looking A.D. Rattray bottlings…their equivalent to the Battlehill expressions at Total Wine.
  • Specialty Stores: I really like the idea of supporting smaller, local specialty shops. The best one that I’m aware of here in the Phoenix, AZ area is Sportsman’s Fine Wine and Spirits. I know there are some for whom this would be a really big deal relative to the big box stores, kind of like the anti-Walmart crowd. I do value being able to talk to somebody at the store who is enthusiastic about Scotch or bourbon. Hopefully, your local specialty store will also have tasting events, which are a great way to get familiar with new whiskies. Ultimately, though, I’ll only reach so far on price. If Lagavulin 16 is $70 at the big box and $105 at the specialty store, I’m going to go big box (or mail order) for that one. On the other hand, if the price difference is reasonably small, I’ll pay a bit more and purchase from the specialty store.
  • Hole in the wall stores: You know these stores…they’re often located on the “other side of the tracks”, and the sign out front simply says “Liquor.” When it comes to whisk(e)y, they probably sell far more small, flask-shaped bottles for under $10 than they sell Highland Park or Ardbeg. I’ve found some really interesting bottles at these stores, though…expressions that are no longer available at the more popular stores. I found a Dalmore 21, Glenmorangie 15, older dumpy bottles of HP 18, Aberlour a’bunadh Batch 15, and more. One store in particular had obviously purchased an initial stock of scotch around 2006/2007 and had never sold much of it. You can’t find this stuff at BevMo.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time visiting all of these stores, and I now have a pretty good idea in my head which expressions are available where, and who has the best price for a particular brand or even individual expression. Regardless of your stance on specialty vs big box, you should definitely spend some time at your local specialty store and get to know the people, their whiskies, and their pricing model. Sometimes they’ll have prices on certain expressions or brands that even the big box stores can’t touch. Plus, you’re more likely to get useful suggestions for new expressions to try.

If you get great service/advice at your local specialty store, please consider buying there, even if it’s a few dollars more than at BevMo or Total Wine. I mean, I get it if they’re charging 30-40% more and you decide to purchase elsewhere, but don’t run down the street to the big box to save $5 on a $75 bottle they just introduced you to.

U.S. mail order

I’ll go mail order for expressions I can’t find locally, or when the deal is just too good to pass up. Here are a few places I’ve ordered from with much success. If you can order several bottles at once, you really cut down on the shipping cost. However, I’ve tended to be a 1 or 2 bottle at a time buyer. There are deals to be had even with this purchasing approach.

  • Shopper’s Vineyard: Subscribe to their newsletter and follow them on Facebook or Twitter to keep tabs on their deals. Sometimes they even go so far as to offer near wholesale prices with free shipping!
  • Astor Wines: I purchased Lagavulin 16 from them for $50 plus shipping!
  • For Scotch Lovers: Join their newsletter and check out their Whisky Wednesday deals. They’re not all great, but there are some gems in there.

I also know people who have purchased from Beltramo’s, Hi Time Wine, and Binny’s very happily.

International mail order

There was a time a couple of years ago, when the exchange rate was lower, that it was a much easier decision to purchase from the UK. Now, you really have to look for the right deal, and purchase enough bottles to keep the shipping costs in check. Still, there are some expressions you just can’t get in the U.S., and it’s good to know there are trusted sources elsewhere.

  • The Whisky Exchange: This is where I started with overseas mail order. They have great people, a HUGE whisky fan/collector for an owner (well, he’s not a huge person, but he’s a significant collector and he knows his whisky), and fantastic service. Their shipping for a single bottle is on the expensive side, but order several and you’ll do fine. Their shipping service is top notch. You can track your shipment, and it’s FAST! Check out their own-bottled expressions under the Single Malts of Scotland or Port Askaig brand names. They have some real winners!
  • Loch Fyne Whiskies: Another super high quality store, located in Scotland. I order most of my special one-off editions from them, such as the HP Earl Magnus releases, and the early Kilchoman expressions. They’re very good to their customers. Get on a waiting list for a special release, and they’ll make sure you get it.
  • Master of Malt: Another great group of people…true whisky enthusiasts. I didn’t order from them for a long time, as they don’t subtract the UK VAT in the basket when you set up an order. However, I found out that you can just email them and ask for a refund on that portion of the purchase and they’ll credit you. Not ideal, but it worked, and I trust them. My favorite thing about MoM is their sample program…a great way to try before you buy, or try something that you can’t afford a whole bottle of. Also, like The Whisky Exchange, Master of Malt bottles some really exciting expressions of their own.


Once you’ve built up your whisky collection to more bottles than you can drink over several years (or for some, in your lifetime), a great way to keep trying new expressions is to get to know other enthusiasts and start trading. I’ve gotten to try some amazing expressions this way. You can also do things like split in on an order and divide bottles up between several people.


Well, there you go…my approach to buying and trading for new expressions on my whisk(e)y discovery journey. Yes, I’ve also gotten some free samples as a blogger, but I’ve purchased or traded for most of my collection. I know there are other great stores out there. If you have a favorite mail order source that I haven’t mentioned, I’d love to hear about it!



I’ve taken to using my Birthday as an excuse to purchase myself a very nice bottle of whisk(e)y, possibly at a cost in excess of what I really should be spending. I suppose ability to afford said whisky bottle should play into the equation, but such is the plight of a Stage 4-ish whisky fanatic. This year, I purchased my May birthday dram in December 2010…and waited. It’s a Glenglassaugh 31 Year, distilled in 1978 and bottled for The Whisky Exchange for their 10th Anniversary of doing online sales. It’s bottled at 44.6%, and carries an interesting old-style label.

Glenglassaugh 31 TWE 10th Anniversary

I had decided that I really wanted to try one of the special TWE Anniversary bottlings, but which one? There was a Linkwood that got 91 points on whiskyfun that looked really interesting. They also had an Amrut bottling, which was even priced well under $100. Then I read the whiskyfun review of this Glenglassaugh. Specifically, this quote caught my eye:

Nose: starts aromatic and generous, with big notes of ‘old style club Speysider’ if you see what I mean.

No, I don’t see what you mean! I’m a mere 3 years into my whisky discovery process, with no ‘old style club’ experience. That settled it…with my increasing interest in sherried whiskies, a 90 point rating from Serge, and a solid history of quality releases from The Whisky Exchange, this sounded like a great whisky AND an opportunity to get a feel for a ‘traditional’ single malt flavor.

Tasting Notes

Glenglassaugh 1978 / 31 Year / TWE 10th Anniversary (44.6%, £108.33 ex. VAT)

Nose: Definite sherry notes here, of the red fruits variety – mostly dried fruits, but some fresh red berries still poking through despite the age. This is combined with alcohol and wood influences that form what Tim F at The Whisky Exchange would call “old church pews” (OCP). It’s overall a great combination, but my feeling is that the OCP serves as a bit of a veil over the fruitiness. A few drops of water really opens it up.
Palate: Still fruity, but also quite spicy and oaky, like an old bourbon. The initial attack is pretty bold, seemingly bigger than expected based on the 44.6% ABV. Quite lively for its age. Starts drying the tongue immediately as it heads for the throat. With water, it’s fruitier and sweeter, reminding me of Dalmore 21 Year.
Finish: Oh, so very dry on the tongue. Fortunately, the dried fruit and berries linger in the back of the nostrils, providing something of a balancing act and distracting from what many might consider too much dryness. As a fan of old, woody bourbons, I’m not turned off by the feeling on the tongue.

Comments: Ok, that nose is really good. With literally a couple of drops of water (not too much, though), it’s great! I could sit with a dram of this and take it in for an entire evening. I’d put the nosing enjoyment level up close to my favorite Laphroaig 30…very special. The palate and finish suit me well, but it is a bit on the dry side. 92 points for the nose and 88 points in the mouth. So at the risk of looking like a Serge copycat, I’m going with 90 points overall on my personal scale. A- (90 Points).


So there we have it, a glimpse into the past at an “old style” Speysider. This certainly was a different Speyside experience than I’m used to. However, the individual components can be found in other modern whiskies. That “old church pew” on the nose reminds me of the “library with leather-bound books” flavor/scent that I’ve experienced with some Dalmores. Some of the sensations on the palate and finish can be found in 15-20+ year wheated bourbons. If this is really the kind of profile you used to find in younger Macallans “back in the day” then those really were the good old days of sherried whiskies.



In February, I had a couple of unexpected samples show up at my door. One was a Caol Ila 30 Year and the other a Highland Park 13 Year; both bottled by Master of Malt at cask strength. These unsolicited samples were not part of the samples program that I previously blogged about. A bunch of bloggers received these two samples out of the blue, and I’ve included links to the resulting reviews that I know about at the bottom of this post.

My favorite way to review samples is to be able to compare them to other expressions that I’m more familiar with. In this case, I happen to have gotten a Battlehill Caol Ila 25 year from my wife for Christmas. Battlehill is supposed to be the “entry level” line from Duncan Taylor, specializing in 6-10 year expressions. They seem to have branched out a bit, and this Caol Ila 25 year is a single cask release sold exclusively by Total Wine & More.

Two old Caol Ilas

Tasting Notes

Battlehill Caol Ila 25 Year (Bottled for Total Wine & More; 43%; $110)

Nose: A cleaner, sweeter version of Caol Ila 12, with citrus and subtle smoke. Lots of vanilla, some fresh oak, and Werther’s caramels. This is all very well balanced, with perhaps less wood than you would expect of a 25 year. I would have guessed that this was more in the 18-21 year range.
Palate: Medium to high viscosity, but also juicy and sweet on the tongue. There is some nice pepper, but not in the same league as a “Talisker kick.”
Finish: Classic Caol Ila finish with lemons and ashy coal smoke. Again, it’s cleaner than the 12 year, with none of the youthful peat that I sensed in that one. The smoke is more subtle than the 12 year, but still very much the focus here.

Comments: Overall, it’s excellent. Everything that first captured my interest in my Caol Ila, and more. It’s refined and very, very drinkable. I think 3-5% more ABV would have brought it into Ace territory, but that’s not the Battlehill style. Rating: B+ (89 Points)

Master of Malt Caol Ila 30 Year Single Cask (1980/2010; 57.4%; MoM Exclusive £99.95)

Master of Malt Caol Ila 30

Nose: Lifesaver butter rum candy and pineapple, then mango. Actually, more like a whole bouquet of soft fruits. Vanilla. Faint whiffs of smoke. Very rich and elegant. I could nose this for hours at a time…we’re talking some serious 30 year old magic here.
Mouth: Holds back at first and then the 57.4% ABV explodes on the late middle to back of the tongue. More woody than the nose indicated. Enjoyable, but a few drops of water provides a more consistent experience over the whole tongue, with more fruity flavors.
Finish: Finally, we get a more sooty smoke that reveals some distillery character rising up in the back of the nostrils. On the tongue, continued heat along with sweets and fruits. However, as the smoke and sweetness dies off, I’m left with a stale malt flavor that takes over and lingers. Hmm…not what I expected. It reminds me of the late finish on my 200ml bottle of Glenkinchie 12. Adding water to bring it down closer to 45-50% ABV seems to cut down on the stale malt component. I just discovered this at the end of my sample…wish I could try again to confirm.

Comments: I thought this whisky provided a world-class experience on the nose, along with moments of greatness on the tongue and into the early finish. However, I was a bit put off by what my olfactory senses perceived as some staleness at the end, especially at full strength. On the nose, this was an Ace. I wish I had a little larger sample to play some more with adding water. As it stands, the finish brings it down a little for me. I’d put it just below the 25 year overall. Rating: B+


Many thanks to my wonderful wife for buying me the Battlehill Caol Ila 25 year. What a great treat this has been. A big thanks to MoM as well, for the 30 year sample. How cool was it to be able to compare these two expressions?  [answer: very cool.] At just over $1oo for the 25 year, and $160-ish for the 30 year, I’d say both of them are a relative bargain, considering the distillery 25 year bottling costs $200.

I don’t know how many bottles of the Battlehill were made. According to to Greg Tuttle at Total Wine, these “bottled for Total Wine” Battlehill releases are all single-cask. At a 43% ABV dilution, we’re just talking a few hundred bottles. I can easily recommend purchasing one if you find it.

The Master of Malt bottling is a little less cut and dry. The price is certainly amazing for a 30 year (though our exchange rate kind of sucks right now). When I first took in the nose, I thought I was going to HAVE to get my hands on a bottle. The finish changed my mind, but adding water was looking promising as a potential panacea.  I recommend checking out the other opinions below. Nobody else seems to be complaining about any stale malt sensation. Maybe it’s just me. You can also get a sample from Master of Malt to see for yourself.

Other Opinions

The folks at Master of Malt were quite generous with these samples. Some of the fruits of their labor:

  • Whisky Israel – Gal really enjoyed it. 90/100 points.
  • Dramming.com – Not quite as much of a rave, noting some “interesting” herbal notes.
  • Jewish SMWS – I think it’s safe to say Josh is a fan.
  • A Wardrobe of Whisky – A whopping 93/100 points!
  • Edinburgh Whisky Blog – Tasting both the Caol Ila and HP sample in a fascinating location.
  • Whisky Boys – Another review of both the Caol Ila and HP, with three opinions in one review.
  • It’s Pub Night – A recommendation to add a wee drop of water, and probably not a bad idea.
  • Malt Fascination – Sjoerd gave the Caol Ila 30 pretty high praise. Notable since he doesn’t care for the distillery 25 year bottling.


Goldilocks, a Scottish man with curly blond hair and wearing a kilt, walked into a pub and found three tumblers of whisky sitting at an empty table. Being a curious chap, he sat down and began sampling the single malts. The first one, a Bowmore 12 year, was nice, but a little gentle for his tastes. He jumped to the third tumbler, filled with Laphroaig 10. The iodine/tar notes in this one were too much! He already had enough hair on his chest, thank you very much. Finally, he took a sip from the middle tumbler, a Caol Ila 12 year. Ahh, just right…

Caol Ila 12

Tasting Notes

Caol Ila 12 Year (2010; 43%; $55)

Nose: On initial pour, an ashy coal dust smoke rises into the air. Letting it rest a minute, and taking a couple of whiffs out of the glass, the smoke dissipates and leaves a fair amount of lemon, with a hint of furniture polish. The smoke is less noticeable, but still there, along with some peat and a little barley. Sometimes I get a salty, vegetable soup type of smell at the end. More so on initial pouring, dropping off after letting the whisky sit in the glass for a while.
Palate: Juicy, peaty and fairly viscous, yet somehow still “fresh” and lively. Turns a bit hot and peppery in a good way, similar to the Talisker pepper kick.
Finish: Heading into the initial finish, there’s a bit of a raw barley present that reminds me of younger peated whiskies. That dies off and leaves a combination of lemon and that ashy coal smoke. No tar like you find in Ardbeg or Laphroaig, and only a tiny bit of iodine making an appearance. The smoke lingers for a medium duration in the back of the nostrils.
Note: That faint reminder of younger peated whiskies makes me wonder about the recent discussion here about cask maturation. I wonder if Caol Ila, a distillery with HUGE output, is one of the distilleries that re-uses barrels as many as 4-6 times. Could that slow the maturation some, leaving a younger barley flavor that I haven’t noticed in other 12 year expressions?


There’s something different about Caol Ila peat. One evening I poured glasses of Caol Ila 12, Laphroaig 10 and Ardbeg 10 for comparison. My wife had cooked a ham and bean soup that day and the Laphroaig and Ardbeg both seemed to take on the strong salty ham aromas that had filled our house. Meanwhile, the Caol Ila maintained its unique ashy coal dust flavor, and had more of a fresh sea breeze quality. That really stood out to me, and the uniqueness of this peat smoke (although I get a similar smoke profile from Lagavulin 12) earns an extra point on my personal scale. Otherwise, I put the quality of this very close to Laphroaig 10. A solid B (85 Points).


I’ve now completed my run of “core Islay malt” reviews. Yes, there’s Bunnahabhain, but I’m focusing on the peated offerings for this series. Bruichladdich also has peated whiskies, but those are relatively new, and they don’t have any “standard” 10-12 year offerings that have been around for a while with a price below $60. Finally, we have the newcomer, Kilchoman. Very much worth checking out, but still a toddler, with no real “core” expression to be had for a few more years.

Caol Ila 12 is well worth a try if you’re looking for a “smoky” whisky. You should especially check this out if you have tried and liked Talisker, but thought Laphroaig, Ardbeg or Lagavulin were just a little “too much” for you. I personally put this expression a little above Laphroaig 10, but not quite on par with Ardbeg 10 or Laphroaig QC. They’re all of very high quality and worth comparing to see where your own preferences lie.


The Glenlivet is getting ready to roll out new packaging across the core line. I don’t generally post these press releases, as I’m sure you’ll see this info popping up in more prominent blogs and web sites. However, this one stands out to me because of the new Glenlivet 18 Year bottle design. Note the heavier base on this one, to match the 21 Year Archive and 25 Year expressions. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a price bump to go along with this change, so you might want to keep your eyes and ears open for any price changes if you’re a big 18 year fan, and buy a few bottles at current prices if that seems to be happening.

On a side note, I think the new design is pretty sweet. 🙂

Press Release


The Glenlivet, the world’s No 2 single malt Scotch whisky, has revealed striking new packaging to provide the ‘single malt that started it all’ with an enhanced luxurious and sophisticated look, in line with its position in the super premium spirits category.

The new packaging to be implemented across the core range, comprising The Glenlivet 12 Year Old, 15 Year Old French Oak Reserve, 18 Year Old and Nàdurra, will remain recognisably The Glenlivet, yet offer a more contemporary, elegant look. Available in all markets including duty free, the new bottles are enhanced with higher shoulders, a shorter neck and an enlarged base giving them a stronger presence, while the embossed stamp of the whisky’s founding family ‘George & J. G. Smith’, continues to portray the legacy and heritage of The Glenlivet. As a strong point of reference for consumers, the cartouche, which indicates the brands history dating back to 1824, has been given a more prominent position on a raised platform.

The Glenlivet 12 Year Old bottle will retain its iconic green colour, recognised by consumers the world over, while the 15 Year Old French Oak Reserve will move to a clear bottle for the first time to showcase the rich golden colour of the whisky. Both expressions will be presented in a new, luxury carton with premium cues to increase gift appeal, while additional information highlighting the whisky’s quality credentials will benefit both aficionados and new drinkers.

The packaging upgrade has seen The Glenlivet 18 Year Old elevated to align with the ultra-premium and prestige expressions within the range including The Glenlivet 21 Year Old and The Glenlivet XXV. Changes to the 18 Year Old bottle design, including the heavier base, signify its status as the most awarded expression in the range and the whisky favoured by many distillery workers. The new bottle is housed in a significantly upgraded permanent gift box.

In addition, The Glenlivet Nàdurra, the non-chill filtered expression in the range, will also be presented in a new, bolder bottle and feature the logos and icons seen across the range while maintaining the individual character of the artisanal, highly crafted whisky.

Neil Macdonald, Brand Director for Malts at Chivas Brothers, comments: “The Glenlivet is recognised by whisky aficionados around the world as an exquisite, premium whisky, and our new elegant packaging will confidently reflect this quality with its striking new shape and luxury cues.

“The stylish bottles and gift cartons will offer increased on-shelf stand-out for the on and off trade and will support our ambition to see The Glenlivet become the No 1 selling malt whisky in the world.”

Since 2005, The Glenlivet has been the biggest contributor to the global single malt category and is only the second single malt to achieve sales of over 600,000 9l cases. In 2010 The Glenlivet completed its £10 million distillery expansion increasing production capacity by 75% to meet global demand.

New Glenlivet bottle design


There are plenty of resources out there explaining how Scotch whisky goes from new-make spirit to full-fledged Scotch via maturation in casks (I’ll include some links at the bottom of this post). However, I decided to go ahead and do a blog post that pulls together some of that information. More specifically, I want to point out and discuss areas where I often see confusion and debate even amongst whisky enthusiasts. Hopefully I’ve got this down, but I’m open to correction if I’ve screwed anything up. 🙂

Scotch whisky, after being distilled, must be matured for at least 3 years in oak casks before it can officially be called Scotch. It’s right in the Scotch Whisky Association regulations. American oak (Quercus alba) and European oak (Quercus robur) are the most common species used for cask creation. Additionally, most Scotch whisky casks were previously used to mature bourbon or sherry. On a lesser scale, there are other  types of previously used casks, such as Rum, Madeira, Port, Tokaji, and other wines. These are often used to “finish” a whisky after its initial maturation in sherry or bourbon casks, but can also be used for the full maturation period. Springbank 11 year “Madeira Wood”, for example, was matured entirely in ex-Madeira casks.

It’s all oak!

This brings me to the first point of confusion that I’ve witnessed. American oak bourbon barrels are the most common source for Scotch whisky casks. I’m not sure where it started, but it’s common to see the term “traditional oak” used to describe a whisky matured in ex-bourbon casks. I think in conversation, this sometimes gets shortened to “oak.” Now you have people talking about whether the whisky was matured in sherry or oak casks. Oak becomes a synonym for an ex-bourbon, American oak barrel. That’s very misleading.

All of these casks (bourbon, sherry, madeira, etc.) are made from oak. The maturation differences come down to type of oak, whether the wood on the inside of the barrel was charred or toasted, and what kind of (if any) liquid was previously matured in it. Scotch casks can also be re-used, which becomes another factor in the flavor and color profile of the whisky.

Update: Immediately after posting this, I saw a tweet advertising Black Bull 12 Year, along with the claim “Matured in oak.” This is the kind of lame marketing that adds to the confusion. Stating this on the bottle or marketing literature would seem to imply that it could have been matured in something else. Doesn’t it just make them come across as looking either dumb or condescending, and not like somebody you would want to buy scotch from? I supposed the practice could date back to before oak was called out as the required wood type. However, wouldn’t that at least make it “lazy” marketing at this point in time?

American oak. It’s not just for bourbon.

Myth: All American oak casks previously matured bourbon.

This is point of confusion #2. While it’s true that you can generally assume that a whisky matured in ex-bourbon barrels was matured in American oak, you can’t assume that an American oak cask was previously used to mature Bourbon. American oak is also used to make sherry casks. In fact, Highland Park uses ONLY sherry casks for the maturation of their standard line of whiskies. To adjust the flavors in their expressions, they play with the ratio of American and European oak casks used, as well as the number of times those casks have been refilled.

Stop giving me the stink eye

When I mention that HP only uses sherry casks, I seem to usually get met with a stink eye look. It seems to be very commonly believed that when Highland Park talks of American oak influence on expressions like the 15 year, they’re talking about ex-bourbon casks. However, their web site very explicitly states that they only use ex-sherry casks. I think part of the reason this is hard to believe is that when you think sherry, you don’t think of America. However, keep in mind that using American oak for sherry doesn’t require that the casks were actually made and used in the United States. The wood can be shipped to, coopered and seasoned in Europe.

I actually wondered about this myself. I believe HP when they say they only use sherry casks, but how do they get the quantity of American oak sherry casks that they need? Then I read James Saxon’s blog post about his Highland Park distillery tour. Here’s how his guide explained it to him…very enlightening!

They have the most dedicated wood policy in the industry – £2 million a year on casks and wood management. This is more than the rest of the industry combined. This was the first I’d heard of it. When it comes to wood, it is Glenmorangie which toots its horn the loudest. Well, like Glenmorangie, Highland Park has its own forests in America where they harvest the wood, lend them to the Sherry industry, then bring them back to Orkney to mature Highland Park. There are no Bourbon barrels in the place, just American oak seasoned in Europe in addition to European oak.

Great stuff! I highly recommend reading the rest of James’ Highland Park tour description, and checking out his other distillery tour reviews on the Scotch Odyssey Blog.

Update: Ok, found another source on the HP sherry cask debate…direct confirmation from Gerry Tosh at HP via Jason Debly’s Scotch Whisky Reviews blog in his nice HP 15 Review.

New Oak. Also not just for bourbon.

Myth: Scotch whisky MUST be matured in used casks.

Scotch is almost always matured in used casks, but there are exceptions. There is nothing in the Scotch Whisky Association regulations prohibiting the use of new (or “virgin”) oak casks in the maturation of Scotch whisky. Meanwhile, there ARE regulations stating that Bourbon must be matured in charred new oak containers. I can see where one might assume that a regulation exists dictating used oak on the Scotch side, but that’s not the case. They just choose to go with used casks to get the flavor profile they’re looking for.

Great resources for more information

  • Malt Madness Beginner’s Guide – The whole beginner’s guide at maltmadness.com is awesome. For information on casks and maturation, check out Chapter 5.
  • Whisky for Everyone – For a quick guide to the types and sizes of casks used to mature whisky, check out this very straight-forward blog post on whisky cask types and sizes.
  • whiskywise.com – Here’s a very comprehensive article on whisk(e)y barrels discussing how oak gives real character to the whisk(e)y.
  • World Whiskey by Charles MacLean – This physical book is highly recommended, especially for the new whisky enthusiast, and served as one of my sources while writing this blog post. At $16.50 from Amazon right now, there’s no reason not to own this book. [No, my link does not earn me any kind of affiliate money]
  • The Balvenie Whisky Academy – The amazing Whisky Academy video series by The Balvenie includes a 10 minute video on Maturation in Module Two (You’ll need to enter your birth date before entering…Doh!). Satisfy your inner whisky geek and check out as much of the series as you can handle. 🙂