...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, 2020 edition

(Kilchoman cluster homepage)  

If you're getting tired of this series-within-a-series, I can sympathize. While I'm glad it's reaching its conclusion, this series has begun to reveal the limits of ~5 year old peated whisky.

Kilchoman gave up in 2020, though not like the rest of us. They decided to release the Machir Bay Cask Strength (MBCS) worldwide. (Though not as part of the regular rotation.) The data out there are limited, but I'm guessing the outturn is larger than the previous one-offs. The last "Original Cask Strength" release utilized quarter casks, while this Machir Bay Cask Strength has regular(?) bourbon and sherry casks. There's some Xmas stuff on front label, and these words on the back label:

Before reducing a batch of our Machir Bay to its regular bottling strength of 46%abv, this release was bottled at cask strength...

If you've read any of this week's reviews then you'd know my skepticism about the first part of the above statement. But I (seriously!) would just like some good whisky, so here it goes. Again. For the last time.

At cask strength, 58.6%abvDiluted to 46%abv
There's just a wall of butter and caramel blocking everything else in the nose for the first few minutes. Peat and anise break through first, then popcorn (with butter and caramel, natch). And brown sugar. Salty ocean air, yeast and apricots show up after 30 minutes.The nose starts with caramel corn, simple syrup, ash and something metallic. It needs some time, then the coastal note drifts up from the background, followed by moss, cinnamon and roses.
Peated Robotussin (I'd drink it) in the palate. Charred beef and ash. Hints of roses, mint and caramel in the background. Starting at the 20 minute mark the whisky takes a turn towards tequila (joven, maybe?), with a little bit of lemon and brown sugar.Ooookay, this palate is big on vegetal, smoky silver mezcal (yes I know tequila and mezcal's relationship, thank you). It gets sweeter with time, until the simple peat smoke takes a backseat to a lump of cinnamon and golden raisins.
It finishes sweet and ashy. Pears and tequila. A squeeze of lemon.This finish reads hotter, somehow, with a mix of bitter ash, golden raisins and lemon juice.


One of the reasons I was drawn to Kilchoman's single malt was because it was not reminiscent of mezcal. I like mezcal, but all those baby Taliskers on the market burned me out on mezcal-esque scotch, so that's a problem here. BUT, thanks to too many bad decisions in college, super young tequila makes me queasy, so I actually prefer the diluted version of this MBCS this time. The nose was the best part of each version of the malt, so good that it keeps the whisky from dipping into the C-grade range.

None of this is a ringing endorsement of course, so the Machir Bay run ends on a wobbly note. Because these whiskies were more educational than I'd expected, and we're near the cluster's halfway point, I'll try to post a recap/assessment of the eight whiskies before continuing on. Happy Friday!

Availability - a few dozen USA and Europe retailers
Pricing - $70 - $85
Rating - 81

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, Meet the Peat Tour 2019

(Kilchoman cluster homepage) 

To summarize this week's results: These Machir Bay Cask Strength (MBCS) limited releases seem to be "Machir Bay" in name only, different in style to the standard Machir Bay and a hot mess at 46%abv. They're all much better at full power. I've reviewed a 2014, 2015 and 2017. Today's it's the Meet the Peat Tour 2019 bottling for the US of A, the last time the MBCS would be limited to a single market.

There doesn't appear to be any disclosure of this whisky's contents on the labelling or official sites. Kilchoman mainly promotes its tour which appears to have been more of a logistics feat than the actual whisky, with stops in the US, Japan and China. Other bloggers have said it's 90/10 bourbon/sherry casks, but that's hearsay so that doesn't get bold font. Age and outturn are also absent, though if anyone has a link to an official statement then please share in the comments below. But the abv is 58.6%, so that's a thing?

At cask strength, 58.6%abvDiluted to 46%abv
My favorite nose of the four so far: Yellow peaches, roses, anise, a salty mossy smoke and a metallic hint in the background.The nose starts with rye white dog, dried sweat, sour apple candy, roasted seaweed and burnt kale. It picks up hints of moss and dried cherries with time.
The very medicinal and coastal peat notes read loudest on the palate. Some lemon and ginger in the midground. Bitter baking chocolate in the background. Almost no sweetness.The palate goes raw again, though not as aggressively as the 2017. Lots of moss and veg, salt and soot. Mint candy appears about 30 minutes in, then nearly takes over.
Coastal and sooty, the warm finish takes on those lemon and ginger notes after some time.Bitterer, sootier and saltier than the palate, the finish eventually takes on the awkward clashing mint candy note.


Fourth verse, same as the first? I'm starting to get punchy here. When the whisky is neat, the nose's angles and the palate's brutality are qualities a number of Islay distilleries wish they could achieve with their official releases. But I really don't care for this at standard Machir Bay strength (46%abv). Again. It feels barely 3 years old at that strength. Again. Keep this one at full strength. Again.

Availability - Sold out?
Pricing - $75 and up
Rating - 87 (when neat, mid to low 70s when diluted)

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, USA West Coast Tour 2017

(Kilchoman cluster homepage) 

Continuing this cluster-within-a-cluster of Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength releases, I bring thee the 2017 USA West Coast Tour bottling.

Unlike the 2014 and 2015, reviewed on Monday and Tuesday, this 2017 was not from a single cask. The packaging shows no age statement and says the whisky is "a vatting of specially selected bourbon and sherry casks" with an outturn of 840 bottles. Because "vatting" is referenced, one wonders if Kilchoman had stopped the sherry cask finish approach to Machir Bay at this point and were marrying casks and parcels instead. One may also wonder if this 60%abv release, like the 2014 and 2015, was ever intended to be part of the regular Machir Bay batches, or if Kilchoman is just using the "Machir Bay" name because it has become familiar to their customer at this point...

At cask strength, 60%abvDiluted to 46%abv
The nose starts out very hot and tight, requiring 20+ minutes to open up. Then one finds nut butters, ocean-y peat, fuji apples, pineapples, marshmallows and a hint of band-aids.The nose is close to newmake again, with a surprising whiff of barley. Along with the ocean-like peat note comes plenty of sage smoke. Toasted coconut and grilled pear appear in the back.
Compared to the nose, there's a lot more fruit in the palate, specifically oranges and tart stone fruits. Cayenne pepper and Campari flow through the midground, with a coastal smoke integrating well with it all.The palate reads hot, bitter and peppery. Some lemon and pencil lead show up here and there. But it's very raw, almost a palate killer.
Gentle peat lingers through the mildly sweet finish, but grapefruit and Campari looms above it.The finish nearly mirrors the palate with heat, pepper, bitterness and a hint of lemon.


The theme continues: Don't reduce this stuff to 46%abv. In fact, this whisky gets damned near unpleasant at that strength. Keep it at full power where the palate's fruit and smoke win the day. Its nose is the edgiest and least mature of this set so far, but it's still plenty of fun once it opens up. I wouldn't mind knowing the actual age of this whisky's components, because it seems much closer to 3 years than the 5-6 years of my 2018 bottling of actual Machir Bay. All three of these CSes seem like they'd burden a 46%abv batch of Machir Bay, and all work much better at cask strength. Let's see how tomorrow's whisky pans out...

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 83 (when neat, at least 10 points lower when diluted)

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, UK Tour 2015

(Kilchoman cluster homepage) 

Starting in 2014 Kilchoman released limited edition cask strength versions of their main expression, the Machir Bay. They continued these special releases until 2020 when Machir Bay Cask Strength entered their standard range. Like yesterday's 2014 bottling, this 2015 was part of an annual Land Rover-sponsored UK marketing tour.

Like the 2014, this is allegedly from a single cask, likely a sherry butt, yet the outturn was significantly different; this release included 648 bottles, while the previous year had 468. The ABVs were nearly identical, 59.0%abv for this one, 58.8% for 2014's release. And while the 2014's box referenced 5 and 6 year old whiskies, the 2015 box has no age statement. And unlike the 2014, the 2015's labelling has no mention of casks. I doubt this sudden lack of disclosure is some sort of conspiracy, rather it's just a bummer.

As I'm doing with all five of these MB CSes, this whisky will be compared against itself, full strength versus MB's usual 46%abv.

At cask strength, 59.0%abvDiluted to 46%abv
The nose beings with vanilla wafers, rooty smoke and beach sand. It opens up further after 20 minutes, as the smoke goes chocolatey and the vanilla shifts to dulce de leche. Hints of anise, rose petals and peach skins settle into the background.Lots of cucumber skin and pears in the early nose. Maple smoke, toasted coconut and salty ocean air appear 20 minutes later. At the 30 minute mark it starts leaning towards dessert wine, maybe late harvest Zinfandel (something I haven't had in at six year, so I dunno)?
A heavy, tangy smoke fills the early palate, with moderate bitterness and sweetness beneath. As it (and the drinker) focuses, notes of lemon bars, minerals and soil appear.The palate becomes very very sweet. The sugar blankets over tangy smoke, horseradish bitterness and peppercorns. Maybe some cherries and flower blossoms in there somewhere.
Lemon bars, cracked pepper, pears and soil fill the finish. The smoke hits more in the aftertaste, chasing the mild sweetnessAs with the palate, the finish goes candy sweet. Hints of peppercorns, chiles and bitter smoke float beneath.


It happened again, though less drastically than with the 2014 release. Diluting the whisky to 46%abv reveals an immature whisky that doesn't really fit the Machir Bay style. This one became incredibly sweet, to the point that the heavy peat levels just crumbled under the sugar. It's a better, and seemingly older, whisky at full power. This also has the loudest vanilla and caramel notes I've experienced in Kilchoman thus far, which keeps it from meeting the 2014 in quality. Like that whisky, this seems like a quirky cask the producers set aside for releases like these.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 85 (when neat)

Monday, February 22, 2021

Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, UK Tour 2014

(Kilchoman cluster homepage) 

As part of a wee marketing tour of the United Kingdom in 2014, Kilchoman released a small parcel of bottles (approximately one sherry butt's worth) of full-powered Machir Bay. They did so again the following year with a slightly larger outturn. They came to The States with a larger bottle count in 2016 and 2017. It 2018, it was a "European Tour" with an outturn three times that of the American releases. By 2019 they had a multi-continent Meet the Peat tour, and its cask strength Machir Bay was now an unspecified "limited" edition. In 2020 they gave up the whole "tour" theme, instead making Machir Bay Cask Strength part of the regular range a worldwide release.

I have the pleasure of reviewing FIVE of these annual batches this week. Each whisky will be tried at full strength and the regular Machir Bay strength of 46%abv. As a gift to us all, the intros will be smaller than this one.

Starting with the first one on the left, the Land Rover (sponsorship!) UK Tour 2014 edition. The box does say the whisky is a mix of five and six year whiskies matured in bourbon barrels and oloroso sherry butts. It was bottled at 58.8%abv, with an outturn of 468 bottles.

At cask strength, 58.8%abvDiluted to 46%abv
The nose starts with dense peat smoke gradually adding in nuts, oats, apricots and candied citrus peel. Milder notes of tar and briny shellfish linger in the background.A little zanier here, the nose rides close to newmake with some ethyl, roots, shellfish and manure. It also has brighter notes of anise, candy canes and an almost lemony smoke.
WOW, the palate. Possibly the peatiest Kilchoman I've had yet. It's also filled to the brim with black walnuts and truffle salt. Bitter herbal liqueurs and a citrus sweetness ease in after some time.The palate becomes sweeter and bitterer, with much milder smoke. Feels close to newmake again, with black peppercorns, dried lavender and dried oregano. A little bit of orange candy in the background.
It finishes with a balance of peat and sweet. Plenty of the truffle salt remains. Hints of lemon candy and black walnuts appears from time to time.It finishes very sweetly, with little bits of dried herbs, bitter smoke and tangy chiles. But mostly sugar.


I'm having a difficult time believing this parcel was destined to become part the regular Machir Bay outturn. Though dynamite at full strength, it's scattered and immature at 46%abv. Perhaps the distillery became aware of this circumstance then elected to set it aside for a bottling such as this. As bottled, the black walnuts, citrus and truffle salt work delightfully in the palate, and all the nose's elements sing in unison. I have little positivity to share about the 46%abv version other than it has the occasional weird charm. Keep this one neat.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 89 (when neat)

Friday, February 19, 2021

Kilchoman Machir Bay, bottled 2018 (my bottle)

(Kilchoman cluster homepage) 

Well, dear reader, I did try to find a 2020 Machir Bay but the fact that I was able to find anything of Kilchoman's in Ohio was kinda special. As I type, four stores might have Machir Bay in Franklin County, population 1,316,756. Anyway, this whisky was bottled in May of 2018. It's been open for a couple of months so this review pour isn't coming right off the top.

Mathilda's fourth birthday!

Today's notes come from a Taste Off I did between this whisky and yesterday's 2013 Machir Bay, which was 95% three & four year old whiskies + 5% five year old stuff. Kilchoman has become less public about the age of Machir Bay now, though major UK retailers pin the current bottlings at 5-6 years old. On a curious note, this was the lighter-colored of the two MBs.

Region: Islay
Age and Maturation: Components may be 5-6 years old, aged in "bourbon and sherry casks"
Barley: 50ppm, sourced from Port Ellen maltings
Bottled: 15 May 2018
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from the top half of my bottle)

The nose reads much smokier than the 2013. Anise-infused mezcal spreads through the midground, carrying cardamom and apricots. It gets brinier with time, picking up a slight farmy note. Dropping the abv to 40% turns the nose into an awkward cocktail of mezcal, Hampden rum and lemon juice.

The palate is better than the nose. It's some sort of nut bread loaded with nutmeg and cloves, followed by toasty peat, lots of salt and sweet limes. Hints of candied pecans decorate the background. Reduced to 40%abv, the whisky becomes simpler. Sweet and bitter. Mint and lime and salt.

It finishes with the nut bread note, coastal peatiness and lots of sweet limes. Things get simpler here as well when the whisky is diluted to 40%abv, mostly salt and wood smoke with a hint of lime.

Lots of interesting stuff going on here. As I'd referenced above, the whisky is lighter colored. It also noses younger than the three year old 2013 bottling. Frankly the nose is uninspiring, and worse when diluted. The palate rights the ship. While there are fewer angles and dimensions to it than the 2013 edition, the 2018's palate hits all the right notes for a winter warmer. It also avoids the nose's rougher sides. As with the 2013, the whisky works better at 46%abv than 40%, but it tends to weaken more thoroughly with this 2018 version.

Ostensibly the 2018's contents are older than the 2013's, so I wonder if there were changes to the spirit's or malt's specs. Or are there more refill casks involved? Though Kilchoman Machir Bay remains one of the best of Islay's NAS entry-level malts, it seems to be acting its age now more than it used to.

Availability - At many specialty liquor retailers in North America, Europe and Asia
Pricing - $45-$65
Rating - 84 (when neat)

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Kilchoman Machir Bay, bottled 2013

 (Kilchoman cluster homepage)

Per my palate, Kilchoman hit the ground running with their first standard bottling, Machir Bay. Named for the West Coast beach near the distillery, the whisky was mostly 3 and 4 year old whiskies with a smidgen of 5 year old stuff when it first showed up in 2012, yet it met and bested some of Islay's regular 10-12 year olds. I went through a couple bottles in the first few years and recommended it to anyone who wanted some "really smoky scotch". Samples were never kept because it was an everyday bottle, and it was a year or two before my interest began regarding the quality progression of standard bottlings. Luckily I was able to purchase a sample a few years ago. And don't worry, this wee one had a sparring partner.

Region: Islay
Age and Maturation60% 3-year-old matured in former Buffalo Trace barrels + 35% 4-year-old matured in former Buffalo Trace barrels and finished for two months in ex-Sherry casks + 5% 5-year-old matured in former Buffalo Trace barrels
Barley: 50ppm, sourced from Port Ellen maltings
Bottled: 2013
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a purchased sample)

The neat nose begins with freshly baked cookies and peat smoke laced with mint and anise. Notes of wet tree bark, horseradish and shoe polish develop over twenty minutes. Reducing it to 40%abv brings out farmy and leafy notes. The mint and anise remain, while the cookies become pastry dough and confectioner's sugar.

Lemon cookies and moderate wood smoke, with a whiff of pine, takes palate's foreground. Butterscotch chips, peanut brittle and a salty mineral note fill the midground. Hints of charred beef and York peppermint patties roll around in the back. Reducing the whisky to 40%abv rolls the smoke back and brings the salt and minerals forward. A tarter lemon note lingers in the background.

Smoke highlighted with lemon and bitter herbs fills the surprisingly long finish. Smaller notes of mint leaf and minerals appear later. Diluting to 40%abv pushes the sooty smoke even further forward. All the other elements are replaced by a mild sweetness.

Yeah, this still rocks. It's young, but neither rough nor raw, and it still seems older than its age. No mezcal nor ethanol, but plenty of lemon, mint and minerals. And though the peat is ever-present, it doesn't hammer the tastebuds like 3-5yo Port Charlotte, Ardbeg or Talisker can. At least I knew back in 2013 that Machir Bay was a good thing.

I'll review a more recent bottling tomorrow. But for now...

Availability - In 2013, North America and Europe
Pricing - In 2013, $50-$60
Rating - 87 (when neat)

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Kilchoman New Make Spirit, from Port Ellen Maltings

 (Kilchoman cluster homepage)

Let us begin with the naked stuff, or something close to it. Many many thank yous to LV33 who was able to obtain a sizable sample of the clear spirit from a very good source, then shared a bit with me. 

This is the heavily-peated version of their spirit, weighing in at 50ppm at time of malting. Sourced from Diageo's Port Ellen facility, the barley was malted using specs similar (or identical) to Ardbeg's. The vast majority of Kilchoman's malt still arrives in this manner, though an increasing quantity comes from their own malting floor (10-25ppm). Their new make's actual strength runs close to 70%abv, then they reduce it to 63.5%abv for cask filling.

Region: Islay
Age: 0
Maturation: No
Source: Port Ellen maltings
Peat level: 50ppm
Alcohol by Volume: 63.5%

At first the nose shows mesquite smoke and dried apricots. Then jasmine blossoms and baking chocolate. At the ten minute mark those two pairings merge, resulting in white peaches, rose blossoms and a chocolatey smoke. Hints of pine, cinnamon and cumin appear in the background later on.

The palate reminds me of the one super-aged sake (koshu!) I tried in Kyoto four years ago, with its balance of dried fruits and savoriness. And also sake. But its fierce mossy smoke is very much not sake. There's just a tiny bit of eau de vie in the background.

Brazil nuts, toasted seaweed and heavy smoke finish it off.

Per my written notes, "Goddamn I love newmake." I can't even speak constructively about it. This is a beautiful spirit. Not complex, just adorable. Most Scottish new makes trend towards eau de vie (very good) or mezcal (good), but this one tilts towards sake which appeals to my nose and palate. Kilchoman did release a few high strength "New Spirit" bottlings once upon a time, each of which was less than three years old. I can't promise they'll be as good as this. But if you can find a bit of their new make, drink it!

Rating - 87 (yes, a whisky rating for a new make)

Monday, February 15, 2021

Five-week Kilchoman Cluster begins

The Glen Grant cluster was inspired by several ancient samples in my stash. This Kilchoman cluster is more personal, or as personal as a branded tempered poison can be. The distillery's development follows my path as a whisky enthusiast. To a point.

A Timeline:

2005 - The Wills family opens Kilchoman distillery. Meanwhile, single malts smite me, and smite me goodly, now and forever.

2007 - The distillery and its warehouses expand. My single malt experience grows beyond the bestsellers as I join my first whisky club.

2010 - Thanks to bars in LA and shops in London, I tumble down the rabbit hole known as single casks. At the same time, Kilchoman sends its first single malts to the US market.

2011 - Kilchoman rolls out its first 100% Islay single malt. Whisky reviews begin popping up on Diving for Pearls.

2012 - It's almost all whisky reviews here, going forward. Kilchoman bottles its first standard release, Machir Bay. 

2014 - Kilchoman travel retail bottlings and $150 single casks begin to appear. My enthusiasm for the distillery — and the industry in general — ebbs. The Diving for Pearls modern era begins.

These clusters are not about whisky pricing, rather they're studies of actual whiskies. So let us remember the pre-2014 era, when the Kilkerran WIPs, Port Charlotte PCs and Kilchoman vintage releases ascended and we enjoyed the remarkable quality of the very young single malts coming from these new brands. I noticed at the time that nearly every reviewer of these whiskies spoke of the future, as in "I can't wait until we see this stuff at 12 years old." Meanwhile, I thought about the present. Since the late James Swan had designed the Kilchoman spirit to be more approachable at a young age, via super-skinny cuts, no one knew how the whisky would change with time. Were we seeing the potential or the peak?

Or, to quote an awkwardly shoehorned line of dialogue from a badly dated film, Is this as good as it gets?

(photo source)

Though I've written about eighteen(!) Kilchomans since 2014, I've purchased only three Kilchoman bottles during those seven years. On the other hand, I amassed a lot of samples. So it's time to catch up a bit and see what's happened during the first decade of Kilchoman single malt releases. This series will include seventeen Kilchoman reviews, stretched out over five weeks. Two of my bottles will be included in the mix and something appropriate will start off the series tomorrow. But I can neither confirm nor deny that a 56-year-old Kilchoman will conclude the course.

Welcome to the Kilchoman Kluster.

1. Kilchoman New Make Spirit from Port Ellen Maltings - "Goddamn I love newmake."
2. Kilchoman Machir Bay, bottled 2013 - "It's young, but neither rough nor raw, and it still seems older than its age."
3. Kilchoman Machir Bay, bottled 2018 - "Though Kilchoman Machir Bay remains one of the best of Islay's NAS entry-level malts, it seems to be acting its age now more than it used to."
4. Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, UK Tour 2014 - "As bottled, the black walnuts, citrus and truffle salt work delightfully in the palate......I have little positivity to share about the 46%abv version"
5. Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, UK Tour 2015 - "It's a better, and seemingly older, whisky at full power."
6. Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, USA West Coast Tour 2017 - "Don't reduce this stuff to 46%abv. In fact, this whisky gets damned near unpleasant at that strength. Keep it at full power..."
7. Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, Meet the Peat Tour 2019 - "...the nose's angles and the palate's brutality are qualities a number of Islay distilleries wish they could achieve with their official releases."
8. Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength, 2020 edition - "The nose was the best part......it keeps the whisky from dipping into the C-grade range."

Assessing the Kilchoman cluster at the halfway point

9. Kilchoman 2007 Vintage - "As I've found with most young whiskies, this one's excitement descends with each aspect."
10. Kilchoman 2008 Vintage - "There's a quality here I had really hoped I would find during this cluster..."
11. Kilchoman 2010 Vintage - "It has a cracking start with an engaging nose, but the palate feels stunted and doesn't air out well."
12. Kilchoman 100% Islay, 9th Edition - "A Kilchoman that swims......It's still the least-formed of the distillery's standard or annual releases..."
13. Kilchoman 9 year old 2008 100% Islay, cask 549 for K&L - "Another 100% Islay that takes water well......the whisky feels like it's almost there."
14. Kilchoman 7 year old 2011 100% Islay, cask 622 for Impex - "This is mostly cask, though I enjoyed it. Had there been a burlier spirit......to stand up to the cask, this would have been a hell of a thing."
15. Kilchoman Loch Gorm, 2020 Edition - "...this whisky has the big spirit to stand up to the big casks."
16. Kilchoman Summer 2010 Release - "It does smell delightful......But the palate is very one dimensional......it needs friends and happy casks and time."
17. Kilchoman 14 year old 2006, cask 18 for Impex - "The "Mediterranean" style of the neat nose works very well, while the neat palate makes this feel like the first-ever Kilchoman for summer weather."

Concluding the Kilchoman Cluster

Friday, February 12, 2021

Laphroaig Càirdeas Port & Wine Casks versus Laphroaig Càirdeas Port Wood

I said I wasn't going to review this 2020 Càirdeas, then I wound up enjoying 2019's Cask Strength Triple Wood more than I'd expected, then My "Surprisingly Legitimate" Annoying Opinions sent me a sample of the 2020 Càirdeas. So here I am.

Laphroaig's subtraction by addition has been covered a few times on Diving for Pearls, with my last rant being the most thorough bit.

I'll get straight to the......well, I'll let them tell it:

Our 2020 annual release of Laphroaig Càirdeas, Port & Wine Casks, continues our long history of innovation. A unique marriage of our classic Laphroaig whisky rested in second-fill Ruby Port ‘barriques’ along with whisky double matured in ex-Bourbon barrels followed by ex-red wine casks.

Is that so? 

A.) They have a very short history of innovation. They have a long history of sticking the fucking landing with their core expression. Or they had.
B.) The official description details the port maturation but leaves the wine part vague. "Red wine"? What is it, a Bordeaux or a pruno? That's like saying "scotch". Is it Brora or Duggan's Dew?
C.) If you're voluntarily mixing "red wine" and port in your glass then it's 1:00am, the party sucks and you know you're going to vomit anyway.
D.) Anyone who mixes peated whisky, bourbon, port and "red wine" should probably avoid alcohol altogether.

Nonetheless, I have a sample of the whisky. I was going to pair it with the 2015 Càirdeas, but decided that would be too cruel. Then I remembered I'd saved one last ounce of my 2013 Càirdeas bottle. Yep, the Port Wood finish, a whisky that really shouldn't have worked but did. It would serve as a better point of reference. It was meant to be.

Port Wood Finish versus Port & Wine Casks

2013 versus 2020

Pinkie Pie versus The Purple Nurple

It's On.

Laphroaig Càirdeas 2013
Port Wood Finish - 51.3%abv
Laphroaig Càirdeas 2020
Port & Wine Casks - 52.0%abv
The nose balances notes of roses and almonds with a wallop of mossy smoke. Antiseptic, old band-aids, iodine, chimney smoke and ruby chocolate fill the midground. Once the whisky is diluted to 48%abv, the nose takes on new characteristics. The roses and iodine are still there, but now they're joined by raspberries and ocean water, with hints of nectarines and gumdrops in the background.New blue rubber ball. That's all I get from the nose for the first few minutes. Then there's lavender, sage, pork ribs with a sugary glaze and burnt kale chips. Plum jam and Dove soap in the background. Diluting it to 48%abv mellows things out. Straightforward peat and almond extract perch on one level, with berry jam and plum wine underneath.
Lots of seaweed in the palate, followed by sea salt and an industrial note. It registers more tart than sweet, with limes above and a hint of flower kiss candy beneath. The whisky tilts towards dark chocolate once it's reduced to 48%abv, but the seaweed note (dashi) remains. It has a berry essence, without the sugar.I'm getting a lot more salt than peat on the palate. There are tart berries and tart oranges, toasted oak staves, fizzy mineral water and a whiff of bitter smoke. The berries get much sweeter and more floral when reduced to 48%abv. A little bit of smoke and tartness remains.
The finish holds a mix of savory dashi, lime juice and machine shop. A burst of cask strength Laphroaig hits late. The dashi stays put after the whisky's dropped to 48%abv, now joined by roses and blackberriesIt finishes salty and peppery with a dash of tangy white balsamic vinegar. A little bit of smoke and lime, but nothing else. At 48%abv, the finish is shorter, sweeter and more floral.

Nearly seven years needed to pass before I understood why the 2013 Port Wood Finish works. Though it takes on flowers and berries from the casks, it never gets very sweet. As referenced in the notes, it's the essences that are passed along, not the sugars. The seaweed notes work much better than I'd remembered, and I'm becoming a sucker for that flavor. Perhaps the whisky needed the right sparring partner for me to see this.

The 2020 Càirdeas does take on the sweetness of its casks' former inhabitants. Dilution boosts the sugars, though luckily not too much. Unlike Glenmorangie's finishes, this Laphroaig's cask effects never seem pasted on. But they do overwhelm the palate and bring A LOT of rubberiness to the nose. The finish is a bit of a *shrug*, but I'm not sure that's due to the wine casks. It's not a bad whisky overall, but that's not the sort of praise to which this famed distillery should aspire. Though Ardbeg seems perfectly satisfied when their special releases underperform their standard whiskies, I wish Laphroaig would aim higher.

Laphroaig Càirdeas 2013 Port Wood Finish - 88
Laphroaig Càirdeas Port & Wine Casks - 81

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Dallas Dhu 33 year old 1979 Gordon & MacPhail

Welcome to my first and last Dallas Dhu review! The blog has barely even mentioned this deceased distillery. I wish could say something hip like I've always enjoyed Dallas Dhu's underrated single malt, but I can't. This will be only the second Dallas Dhu I've tried; the first one was kinda bleh. Anyway, the distillery was up and around for about 85 years (minus two closings) before DCL shut it down in 1983. It's one of the few dead distilleries that has not been plowed into the ground, and currently serves as a distillation museum in its home of Forres, Moray. Many thanks to Sir Brett of Riverside for this sample!

Distillery: Dallas Dhu
Region: Speyside (Moray)
Ownership at time of distillation: Distillers Company Limited
Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Series: Licensed bottling

Age: 33 years (1979-2012)
Maturation: probably a refill something or other
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered: ???
Colorant added: ???

The nose is a bit blank at first. Needs 20+ minutes. Aluminum baseball bat appears first, then steel wool, then anise and cardamom. It starts gaining steam. Peach crumble, caramel, rosewater, pine needles and wasabi. It peaks at 40-ish minutes then starts to fade again.

It has a good mouthfeel, which leads me to think it hasn't been chillfiltered. Like the nose, the palate needs time. It starts out bready, with some caramel and dried apricots around the edges. Then it picks up some bitter greens, copper and a fresher stone fruit sweetness.

It finishes peppery and dusty after the first two sips. Subsequent sips have the fruity sweetness and some caramel. The tannins begin to escape after the final sips.

This surpassed my low expectations, though the whisky needed time to perk up. On the positive side, it has a distinct imperfect old school character, so I'm very glad I tried it. The finish was its weakest element. I'm not sure if a higher ABV would have helped or revealed more issues. It's a bit creaky and bitter, a little fruity but not enough. It's tired, starting to fray near the seams, teetering on the edge of collapse. I can relate to this whisky. I'm an 82 on my best days too.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - Still in the three-figure range as of today
Rating - 82

Monday, February 8, 2021

Highland Park Cask Strength, Release 1

Highland Park entered the NAS burly sherried Cask Strength marketplace — one that includes distilleries such as Aberlour, Glendronach, Glengoyne, Tomatin, Tamdhu and (occasionally) Macallan — with a thunderous first release weighing in at 63.3%abv. Though I do not tend to enjoy ultra-high abv scotch whisky, Highland Park's single malts are often very good, so I'm willing to take a little punishment. In an attempt to get a fuller appreciation of Release 1, I've elected to try it at three different strengths, in this order: 43%abv, 50%abv and 63.3%abv.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Kirkwall, Orkney
Age: ???
Maturation: sherry-seasoned American oak casks
Release #: 1
Release year: 2020
Alcohol by Volume: 63.3%
Chillfilltered? No
Colorant added? Possibly not

Diluted to 43%abv, using water and maths

The nose starts out with barbecue potato chip powder and an alcoholic nip. But after 10 minutes it takes a quick turn toward sugarier territory: milk chocolate, caramel and peach gummy candies. It starts fading out after 20 minutes.

Lots of candy on the palate, too: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. Black pepper and a touch of good bitterness give it some needed angles, and it has a nice mouthfeel as well.

It finishes with peanut butter and golden raisins on the first two sips. Subsequent tries bring out metal and earth notes.

It's a comfy, easy whisky at this strength. The peat is either shy or absent here, and the nose peters out way too quickly.

Diluted to 50%abv, using water and a sundial

The nose is fruitier, prettier at this strength, with red plum skins, jasmine and lilac. Smaller notes of burlap and Frosted Flakes float in the background. An ashy note appears after 30 minutes.

Mildly peaty and floral, the palate holds onto the peanut butter note while gaining orange gummy slices and fresh ginger. The bitter bite now trends towards oak.

Some vegetal peat and tangy berries comprise the finish during the first few sips. It gets hotter, bitterer and more peppery with time.

Great nose! The palate starts out pretty well too until the bitter oak creeps in. It remains very drinkable at this strength.

63.3%abv naked, I mean I'm naked, the whisky is in a glass 

The nose reads closed for quite a while. Maybe 20 minutes? Almost one-by-one, each element peeks out then ascends. Manure, Hampden funk, charred beef, gummy bears, flowers and tangerines.

The sweeter and (obviously) hotter palate leads with blood oranges, dried cherries and a dose of soot. Those oranges get tangier and sweeter with time, and are joined by toasted almonds and a touch of barbecue sauce.

Not as hot as expected, the finish holds an orange-y custard, honey, jalapeños and a subtle sootiness.


It's not the most complex thing, but it's quite good. I'm not sure which abv level to recommend. The palate is best at full power, the nose is gorgeous at 50%abv and the mouthfeel is silkiest at 43%abv. So perhaps one may get a lot of whisky out of this whisky. At a similar price point, the Full Volume would still get my pick over this whisky. And since I'm done with getting my ass kicked in general, I might even roll with the 12yo instead. But that's me. Enjoy, you masochists.

Availability - USA and Europe
Pricing - $80-$120
Rating - 86

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Concluding the Glen Grant cluster

I unwittingly set myself up for trouble with this first cluster. Comparing the old 100% direct-fired Glen Grant spirit with the contemporary mixed- or steam-fired spirit seemed like a good approach, but of course it's not that simple. The older whiskies were in fact older, spending more years, or even decades, in oak before being bottled, resulting in longer, more complex interactions between the cask and spirit. That doesn't even factor in the number of sherry casks in the group: 2 out of 7 for the contemporary GGs versus 3+ out of 6 for the direct-fired GGs. And then there's the Caperdonich. Great job, me!

A fair amount of repetition was found among the more modern bottlings, perhaps due to less time in oak, or similar cask types, or just a narrower spirit. On the other hand, the oldies had nose and palate notes across the sensory spectrum, either due to more maturation time or a livelier, more expansive spirit. I'll still attempt to list the common notes for both groups below.

I made one more discovery, important to me personally. In my rough draft of this post, I wrote about how "citrus" was the only common note between both whisky eras. But despite being a Genus within the Plantae Kingdom, citrus isn't just one note to our noses and mouths. Grapefruits are not the same as limes, which are different than blood oranges, which ain't yuzu. So I'm going to blow up the whole citrus thing and refer to the specific fruits.

The most common tasting notes found:

1988-1995 distillate1955-1972 distillate

Apples - 5x
Barley - 4x
Florals - 4x
Peaches - 3x
Oranges - 3x
Yeast/wort - 3x

Peaches - 4x
Oranges - 3x
Candy - 3x
Yuzu - 2x
Florals - 2x
Dunnage - 2x
Honey - 2x

OBSERVATIONS: Hooray for peaches and oranges and flowers, the overlappers! Apple and barley notes, so prevalent in the more recent bottlings were absent from the older whiskies. Also, please note the happy lack of "vanilla" here.

1988-1995 distillate1955-1972 distillate

Pepper - 5x
Bitter herbs - 4x
Limes - 4x
Nuts - 4x
Apples - 3x
Mineral - 3x
Sweetness - 3x

Bitter herbs - 4x
Earth - 3x
Salt - 3x
Sweetness - 3x
Toffee - 3x
(seven others at 2x)

OBSERVATIONS: A wide variety of citrus appeared in the older segment but individual fruits didn't repeat much. Overall there was less lime, less pepper and probably less "nuts" (a category I should probably blow up next time too) in the older distillate. Very nice bitter herbal notes registered through both groups compared to very little bitter oak, probably 8 (herbs) versus 2 (oak).

1988-1995 distillate1955-1972 distillate

Bitter herbs - 4x
Mineral - 3x
Limes - 2x
Metal - 2x
Pepper - 2x

Bitter herbs - 3x
Tobacco - 3x
Grapefruits - 2x
Lemons - 2x
Smoke - 2x
Sweetness - 2x

As mentioned at the halfway point, there were not a lot of repeating notes across the finishes. Tobacco and smoke started to show up in the oldies, possibly due to sherry casks and mild peat levels. Each whisky, though, usually had its own unique finale.

I enjoyed drinking my way through indulging in this series. On the logistical level it was easy to plan and organize. The side-by-sides were logical, with the 25yo 1988 + the 12yo from the 1970s + the 25yo Royal Marriage Reserve taste off being the most educational. The 50 vs 56 wasn't half bad either. I embraced pretending I'm a baller blogger while also making a dent (or maybe a tap) in my sample stash. Most importantly, I didn't get sick of Glen Grant single malts, unlike the 16-part Ben Nevis series from which I am still recovering.

Next week will be cluster-free (huzzah!), instead filled with three reviews — two relevant and one irrelevant — before I set off on another cluster, one I've had in the works for a few years. Cheers!

Friday, February 5, 2021

Glen Grant 56 year old 1955 Gordon & MacPhail

(Glen Grant cluster homepage)

You ask, but Michael now what are you going to drink when you turn 56? Malört. I'm going to drink Malört.

I just wanted to reference Malört in my introduction to a 56 year old whisky.

That's it for the short paragraphs, people. I'm going to write a longer paragraph now, starting with some details about where the following sentences are going, testing your attention span. Then I'll awkwardly pivot to half-formed opinions about what makes a whisky beautiful and why whisky's not really important in the general scheme of things. Quickly I'll contradict that, cuddling with hypocrisy as if it represents depth rather than my terror of being insignificant. I'll follow that up with a sentence trying to hide the fact that it's just filler. Then, of course, I'll admit I'm wasting your time.

And now a 56 year old whisky, a thing that was consumed intermittently one afternoon while I also drank a 50 year old whisky. That's 106 years of whisky. What?

Also purchased from an LA Scotch Club event two lifetimes ago

Distillery: Glen Grant
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Ownership at time of distillation: The Glenlivet and Glen Grant Distilleries
Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Series: Distillery Labels

Age: 56 years (17 February 1955 - 1 August 2011)
Maturation: one first fill sherry cask, one refill sherry cask
Cask #: 828 & 860
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

The nose has a brighter, simpler fruitiness than the 50yo, imagine peaches, figs and dates. Anise and honey. Peppery basil leaf and spicy cigar wrapper. Though it develops a note of Rolos after an hour, the figs last the longest.

Raw cocoa and carob bark strike first in the palate, followed by gently sweet pipe tobacco and just a hint of wormwood. After 30 minutes: grapefruits and tart nectarines. 45 minutes: earth and stones. The tart fruits gain strength and the bitterness retreats with time.

It finishes with unsmoked mild cigar tobacco, tart lemons and grapefruits in the early sips. Later on, wormwood and incense appear providing some dimension to the tart bite.

Though less intergalactic than the 50yo, this 56 reads like an excellent sherried whisky half its age but with just a bit more bite, weighing in around 46%abv. Nothing about it announces five decades, rather just great extensive sherry cask maturation. I know I'll get the stink eye from many folks for saying this, but I'd rather drink the 12yo that was probably distilled around the same time as this whisky. If price was of no concern......well, I'd be wondering why price is of no concern.

This 1940s-1960s Gordon & MacPhail range is likely loaded with gems, and I'd bet many are operatic even at 40%abv. They're all far out of my price range, but I'm glad G&M had the foresight and commitment to produce these pieces of history.

Availability - A few European retailers
Pricing - north of $2000
Rating - 90

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Glen Grant 50 year old 1958 Gordon & MacPhail

(Glen Grant cluster homepage)

As bloggers more knowledgable than I have written: Aged spirits tend to converge in style after four or more decades of maturation. Though my limited experience leads me to agree with that statement, I'd like to amend it. After 40+ years of maturation, aged spirits take one of two paths.

I call the first path, Liquid Furniture. Leaving a whisky or a brandy in oak for such an extended period of time does give it a lovely color, a riotous nose and a high price point, but it also risks turning the liquor nearly undrinkable if the spirit and cask interaction isn't well managed. Think over-steeped tea that is also half poison. That first path is a damned tragedy.

The second path lies beyond simple description, and to capture it may require different syntax than a normal whisky review. Most of my contact with ultra-aged spirits comes from cognac rather than whisky. Once upon a time when one could enjoy grandpa-aged brandy without taking out a bank loan, I experienced a few pours which I cannot describe because they press me to the limit of language. So I anticipate handing out a hundred-word description and a numeric score will not do a 50 year old whisky justice.

Purchased from an LA Scotch Club event two lifetimes ago

Distillery: Glen Grant
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Ownership at time of distillation: The Glenlivet and Glen Grant Distilleries
Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Series: Distillery Labels

Age: 50 years (1958-2008)
Maturation: sherry cask(s)
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

The nose. I'm wading through bushels of dried oregano and thyme, around damp moldering tree stumps covered in furry moss and yellowing polypores. Waves of pumpernickel, browned ghee, date rolls and wormwood reach through, while in-season peaches and loquats rise from beneath.

Radiantly bitter herbs and roots meet mangoes, figs and blood oranges in the palate. A mix of salty roasted almonds and toffee chips color the background. Wormwood and maté appear late, meeting the sweet fruits well.

The finish glows with bitter herbs, tobacco and blood oranges. Soft smoke carries maté and salted toffee on and on. It concluded but I can't remember when.

105 words. I tried. The roaring nose never weakened during the whisky's 90 minutes. That stamina — at 40%abv! — feels either mystical or radioactive or something in between. I write about balance in the final paragraph of my reviews so frequently that it's probably getting tiresome. But. The equilibrium of the palate's salt, bitter and fruit has rarely been topped in my whisky experience. This whisky was a thrill, and I was happy to set it free.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - a lot more than it was in 2008
Rating - 94

Monday, February 1, 2021

Caperdonich 38 year old 1972 Duncan Taylor Rarest of the Rare, cask 7460

(Glen Grant cluster homepage)

A twist! I begin the week with some Glen Grant Number Two, a.k.a. Caperdonich, a.k.a. dumped and sold for parts. This is the revered 1972 vintage people put on their license plates or name their sons after. Though I think the whole whisky vintage thing is unconvincing, I have no reason to doubt that Caperdonich single malts from this era are splendid. That's why I paid some money to get in on this bottle split. And this is very likely the last Caperdonich review you'll see on Diving for Pearls.

As a quick reminder, this distillery was built across from Glen Grant distillery, by the Grant family, in order to keep up with demand. Though it only ran for four years at the start (1898-1902), it reopened and ran for 37 years a few generations later (1965-2002). Its production was designed so that its spirit would mirror that of Glen Grant's though it never really worked out that way. It strayed most from 1967 to 1985 when different shaped stills were utilized. According to Whiskypedia, the single malt wasn't even assigned its own name until 1977, so when today's whisky was distilled it was just Glen Grant No. 2.

Back to the hallowed vintage. Duncan Taylor somehow scooped up the lion's share of 1972 Cappies, at least 45 casks, and now most of those bottles are approaching or have approached the four-digit mark on the secondary market. If that makes you sad, just consider all the NAS Macallans selling for multiple Gs, and dang if certain things suddenly seem like a deal.

Distillery: Glen Grant No. 2 (later known as Caperdonich)
Region: Speyside (Rothes)
Ownership at time of distillation: The Glenlivet and Glen Grant Distilleries
Bottler: Duncan Taylor
Series: Rarest of the Rare

Age: 38 years (November 1972 - February 2011)
Maturation: probably a former bourbon cask
Cask #: 7460
Outturn: 160 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 53.6%
(from a bottle split)

Mmmmmmmango on the nose, like a mango custard, and key lime pie and whiff of pipe tobacco. Then ginger candy, cardamom, blood oranges and candied yuzu peel. Notes of toasted oak and dunnage arise after 30+ minutes. Once diluted to 46%abv, the whisky reveals oak spice, baking spice, ginger spice, baby spice, etc. Mangos and nectarines in the background.

Intense exotic spices (← check out that white guy note), kabosu and yuzu lead the palate. Funky honey carrying dashes of salt and nutmeg slides through the midground. Hints of cassia, dried oregano and dried sage appear in the background. Sandalwood and incense notes build with time. Reducing the whisky to 46%abv brings out a louder fruity sweetness, full of mangoes, limes and honey. Bits of earth and pepper oil hide in the shadow of big old oak.

The long, spicy, glowy finish spins bitter citrus peels, cassia, dried sage and pickled ginger, as well as hints of smoke and broken stones. The finish loses its smoke, getting sweeter and tangier once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv.

Excellent whisky as expected, though I feel it's right in line with last week's 36yo 1967 Glen Grant as far as grand quality goes. The nose wins the day, showcasing bundles of fruits alongside the spices. While the old cask imparts plenty great palate characteristics, it doesn't leave much room for anything else until the finish. Again, I'm just picking nits about a fabulous drink. Rest well, Caperdonich.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ??? to ????
Rating - 90