Posts Tagged ‘Master of Malt’


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.

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MoM Tomatin 19 Single Cask

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

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

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

Tasting Notes

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

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

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

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

Tomatin MoM 19 and OB 18


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

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

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

Other opinions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomatin for Christmas

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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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