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Friday, November 6, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Faultline Blended Scotch Whisky

K&L Wine Merchants has its own spirits label (and separate LLC?) "Faultline" under which they've released rums, gins, single malts, a cognac, and a very good bourbon.  Last year they tried their hand at creating a blended scotch whisky.  They aimed to design something affordable ($25) that appealed to existing scotch fans.  This meant there would be peat but no added colorant.  A high abv (50%abv) and a high malt content (undisclosed).  While they target Johnnie Walker and Chivas drinkers in their marketing blurbs, I think their true competition is the blend they'd lauded for the last few years: AD Rattray's Bank Note.  Bank Note is lightly peated, bottled at 43%abv, made of 40% malt whisky, and sells for $20 (or less).  While I really enjoyed my first bottle of Bank Note (reviewed here) my two subsequent bottles were of lesser quality.  Could Faultline replace it?

Since Florin, Jordan from Chemistry of the Cocktail, MAO from My Annoying Opinions, and I already had plans on splitting another K&L exclusive whisky, I suggested we also split this Faultline blend.  A big financial risk, yes, but they agreed to it.

Jordan and MAO will be posting their reviews this morning, in a spectacularly coordinated simul-post.  I'll post their links as soon as my daughter allows me. And here are their reviews: Jordan's and MAO's.

Bottler: Faultline
Retailer: K&L only
Age: minimum 3 years
Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered: Probably not
Colored: No

My first taste did not go well.  My note: Johnnie Walker Red with peat.  Three weeks later I took an official set of notes.  Eight weeks after that I took another set of notes.

Review 1 - Three weeks after opening:

Its color is light amber.  The nose is lemony and piney.  Mossy peat in the background.  Hint of peppermint.  Quite some ethyl prickle.  After 15 minutes the lemon strengthens.  On the palate, wow, almost identical to the Shieldaig Highland Single Malt at the start.  A bit of grain in there.  Definitely young and brash, but it's dirty in a not-bad way.  Some light oak-driven sweets, like caramel.  Some pencil lead and bitterness in the finish.  Hint of citrus.  A decent length.

Bringing it down to the usual corporate blend strength...

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Pine and peat in the softer nose.  More floral notes.  Lemon creme pie.  Still some ethyl.  The palate is much grainier, sweeter.  Less peat, but it's still there.  A little lead.  Low on The Gross Factor found in major blends at this price.  Some spiciness in the finish.  Hints of earthy peat, bitterness, and lead.

Review 2 - Eleven weeks after opening:

Bit of grungy dirty peat in the nose, reminiscent of the Shieldaig Highland, though with more butter and sugar.  Sort of like a peated single grain.  Vanilla, whole wheat crackers, hints of apples and savoury herbs.  Maybe a whiff of rotting seaweed.  The palate begins very ashy.  Almonds, pine, and soil.  Mildly sweet and peppery.  A surprising lack of heat for its ABV, though there's a small vodka-ish note in the background.  A growing bitterness back there too.  Lots of ashes and bitter tea in the finish.  Expanding notes of sugar and vanilla.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
A mellower, brighter peat in the nose, almost like a young current Talisker.  Sugary stuff.  Mesquite.  Sweet barbecue sauce on the palate.  Small notes of lead and bitterness.  Vanilla.  Quite sweet overall.  The finish still has a decent length.  It's very sweet and low on the peat.  The bitter and the lead.

Sugar and peat.  Very clean and crisp.


1. The whisky improved with each successive tasting.  Because I kept my portion in a small bottle, I doubt that much oxidation/oxidizing occurred.  Was it me?  Was it the whisky?

2. While I respect the decision to bottle the blend at 50%abv, I liked it better when it was dropped to 40%abv.  Though it was simpler, it was also more focused and better to drink.  It also makes for a very good highball.

3. The lead and bitterness are difficult to navigate and ignore.  Considering the fact that I didn't look at my first review's results before doing my second review, I'm confident in my discovery of those notes as they appeared both times.  I'd be curious if Jordan and MAO found those notes.  The LAWS guys are over the moon about this blend, yet they make no mention of lead or a sharp bitterness.

4. This is more enjoyable than Johnnie Walker Red, Dewars White Label, Cutty Sark, and most other major lower-priced NAS blends.  If I knew that Bank Note would always be as good as my first bottle, then I'd always go with Bank Note first.  But, Johnnie Walker Black Label has plummeted in quality so drastically, that I'd pick Faultline over it right now.

5. Yet Faultline doesn't remind me of any of those blends.  It's Total Wine's NAS Shieldaig Highland Single Malt ($18) to which it bears its closest similarity.  So my guess is that whatever malt that Highland was (Ledaig? Baby Talisker?) is the same that provides the peated base for the Faultline.  And I think I'd go with this blend if I had to choose between the two whiskies.

6. So, in an imaginary world where Black Label, Shieldaig Highland, Bank Note, and Faultline were the same price, I'd go with Bank Note first and Faultline second.

Availability - K&L Wines
Pricing - $24.99
Rating - 78  (best with water or club soda)


  1. From what I gather from the K&L site, the Davids worked with the Laings to develop this blend though that fact doesn't tell us anything about the components.

    1. Looks like Florin asked the tough questions where I did not. I doubt we'll get more specifics than what DOG told him.

  2. I came in very close to your score Michael. I had an exchange with DOG about the components, he doesn't know for sure but guesses based on what Douglas Laing has on hand that the peat is from Caol Ila or Talisker, and that it has about 40% malt. No Auchentoshan or lowlands in general, apparently.

    "Nice blended scotch, designed by/for K&L wines. No coloring - this is great! The high strength definitely helps. The malty part however is a little generic, like an Auchentoshan. I enjoyed it, but would not buy a bottle. 2.9* (79)"

    1. My "young current Talisker" note might actually make sense now, it was just a random observation at the time. Also, kallaskander mentioned that the Shieldaig Highland Single Malt (which I found very similar to this blend) may have been Talisker as well. Meanwhile I thought they were both Ledaigs.

      I was wondering if the malt was around 40%, though I'd figured that would be a spec they could officially brag about / advertise.

      Did you find any change in the blend over time?

    2. The 6oz bottle changed from full to empty within 48h, that's pretty much the only noticeable change.

      I hope DOG will not mind me disclosing what he told me: based on his guesses, young malts from Allt-a-bhainne, Craigellachie, Miltonduff, probably 10-15 components altogether. Deciding on the blend involved a tasting back and forth. Grain content likely North British or Girvan. Based on what I tasted Craigellachie and Miltonduff would have been probably about my 67th and 89th guesses, but what do I know? Both of these are in my experience assertive malts (in very different ways), and there was nothing assertive about this. But thinking some more about this, young Talisker + Craigellachie can probably pass for young Ledaig, so there you go. Tobermory and Craigellachie seem to share the cabbagy, sour savory flavors that put off all but the most adventurous souls.

    3. I should make it clear that I thought it was a very good deal at $25 - I challenge anyone to find a 50% abv, non-colored blended scotch in this price range, or for that matter for any price -, and I would pick a bottle over most/all sub-$40 blends that I can think of. It's just that I don't drink too many blends, and I can think of a few single malts that I would rather have in this price range - including Glenfiddich 12yo and Speyburn 10yo.

  3. Well, I paid a visit to the Redwood City K&L to look for some Balvenie 12 Single Barrel and discovered a couple things. First, David Driscoll does show up to work. I honestly thought from all his travel blog posts that he's hardly ever in the store. Second, I learned that the Faultline Blended Scotch is all gone and it's sadly a one-off at this point (another customer was asking Driscoll about it). Given the reviews, I don't believe we've seen the last of the Faultline Scotch whisky blends...