...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Clynelish 21 year old 1996 van Wees The Ultimate, cask 8793

I'm pretty thankful for the many good Highland single malts, so I'm going to review three 20-something year old Highland whiskies this week, two from Clynelish. Two sherry cask Clynelish in fact.

The first one is from The Ultimate series by van Wees. I used to be a big fan of this range when it was full of a wide variety of mid-aged single malts at very competitive prices, including some gems from Longmorn and Laphroaig. But at least 3/4s of their output today is made up of single-digit-aged casks from Signatory's warehouses. The prices are fine, but how much 8 year old Glen Spey does the world really need?

Anyhoo, this one, a refill sherry butt bottled in 2017, was from the tail-end of that earlier era. It's one of those rare Clynelishes not yet reviewed by Mr. Clynelish himself.


Distillery
: Clynelish
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Highlands (North)
Bottler: van Wees (The Ultimate series)
Age: 21 years (8 October 1996 - 2 November 2017)
Maturation: refill sherry butt
Cask number8793
Limited bottling: 623
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thank you to Dr. Springbank for the sample!)

NEAT
At first the nose goes light on the sherry. There are apricots, golden raisins, walnuts and dusty book pages. After 45 minutes black raisins roll out, followed by cherry jam and vanilla. The palate never goes easy on the sherry. Grape jam, bitter chocolate, PX and charred beef. Cherry yogurt and peppery arugula. It has quite the thick mouthfeel throughout. It finishes with cherry jam, grape jam, jalapeño oil and caramel.

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes darker, if one can smell darkness. Wood smoke, copper and soil. Dried cherries, prunes and mixed nuts. The jams and prunes have abandoned the palate, nut butters and baking spices have taken their place with hints of vanilla pudding and oranges in the background. The not-too-sweet finish shows nut butters, vanilla pudding and citrus.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
The whisky's light gold color misled me into thinking this was going to Clynelish-forward. Instead it was ~90% cask, which was kind of a letdown. The world does need more 20+ year old Clynelish, but not when it's buried under the cask or the vessel's previous contents. It's not a bad whisky at all, but the source distillery could be nearly any facility in the Highlands and much of Speyside. So if you're just looking for 20+ year old sherried whisky, this'll serve that purpose. If you're looking for Clynelish, you may want to search elsewhere.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 84

Friday, November 27, 2020

Ledaig 20 year old 1997 The Munros, for K&L Wine Merchants

The Glasgow Whisky Company (TGWC) is a new-ish indie bottler. They've released a few dozen whiskies since their start in 2007, including a number of single malts for California retailer K&L Wine Merchants. I'm out of the loop when it comes to K&L's exclusives, thanks to shipping regulations, and have had only one chance to nab a bottle since I moved out of Southern California. That bottle was a Ledaig, but not this Ledaig, and that's another boring story. More relevant to today's post, I was able to take part in a split of this Ledaig bottled under TGWC's The Munros label.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Owner: Distell International Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Independent Bottler: The Glasgow Whisky Company
Range: The Munros
Age: 20 years (1 May 1997 - 31 October 2017)
Maturation: three hogsheads
Outturn: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 52.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a bottle split)

NEAT
The nose is earthier than Wednesday's Alexander Murray Ledaig, but has that same toasty peat note. Some candy notes too, like cinnamon gum and watermelon Jolly Ranchers. Plenty of dried apricots too. With time the earthiness shifts to an organic mustiness, friendly peat smoke and a fudgy hint. The palate has a nice funkiness. Soil and manure, mossy smoke and a kombucha-like fermented note. Salt and lemons fill in the edges, and it all gets sweeter with time. It finishes tangy and sweet. Lemons, limes and ginger beer. Its earthiness lasts the longest.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose picks up yellow stone fruits and lemons. The earthiness retreats. A mesquite smoke arises. Less smoke and more sweets in the palate. But the sugars are balance by a big herbal bitter bite, fennel and pickled ginger. The finish matches the palate, though a little more lemony.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
I enjoyed all three Ledaigs this week, and I'm thankful the three bottlers offered up whiskies that went very light on the oak. It was great to match up this one with the 1997 20yo from Alexander Murray. This Ledaig gets the edge thanks to its quirkiness and fruitiness, but their qualities are so close that I'd be happy with either. The fact that The Munros Ledaig was priced 40% cheaper than the other would have made for a much easier decision. I normally don't regret missing out on store exclusives, but this whisky would have hit the spot this fall.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $99.99
Rating - 88

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Ledaig 20 year old 1997 Alexander Murray & Company

Alexander Murray & Company's bottlings flooded the California whisky retail scene almost overnight in 2015, appearing in beloved specialty retailers as well as Costco. The distillery variety was impressive, the the 40%abvs were not. A year later a pair of cask strength bottlings (Dalmore and Highland Park) appeared but I wasn't particularly thrilled with either. Then I moved out to Ohio — whose liquor control department that doesn't believe in independent bottlings — and promptly forgot about Alexander Murray. At some point the company reinvigorated their brand and began offering additional cask strength single malts from Laphroaig, Bunnahabhain and this Ledaig. Let's see if this is a step up from that Highland Park.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Owner: Distell International Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Independent Bottler: Alexander Murray & Company
Age: minimum 20 years (distilled 1997)
Maturation: "multiple refill Bourbon barrels" per the official site
Outturn: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? ???
Colorant added? ???
(from a bottle split)

NEAT
The nose begins very sugary, think circus peanuts and orange candy. Blue scented marker (a fave) and roasted corn. The peat reads toasted as opposed to outright smoke. The palate's sweetness is milder than the nose led on but the peat is heavier, starting off as dark industrial smoke, then tilting towards moss. Lots of salt in the foreground, though less than Monday's monster. Some mellow tropical fruit punch hints in the background. It finishes with tart and tangy fruit, ocean-y peat and a hint of tobacco.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Just this little bit of water does indeed bring change. Now the nose shows manure, black walnuts and chalk dust up front, grilled pear with fruity cinnamon in the back. The palate gets fruitier: apples and pears, as well as a lemony smoke. Then plenty of salt and a hint of those black walnuts. The finish mirrors the palate but with a little more herbal bitterness.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
A few steps up, in fact! This is a proper peated drink, to my palate, that even lets some fruits sneak through. Because I'm a sucker for black walnuts (except for that damned tree in my backyard), I may have enjoyed the diluted version even more. As this was a mix of "multiple" casks, I think the blending did it a lot of favors, sanding down raggedy edges and providing structure, while also probably salvaging at least one very low ABV cask. The price was a bit steep and the whisky has sold out, so once again, you're welcome.

Availability - Sold out, I think
Pricing - $170-$190
Rating - 87

Monday, November 23, 2020

Ledaig 17 year old 1998 AD Rattray cask 800036 (my bottle)

The Mull Monster


I wasn’t even in the mood to buy anything when I saw this bottle in late 2015. (My comrades with this same disease know what happened next.) A year later I realized I’d never actually enjoyed super-high ABV single malts. A year after that I opened my awful sherry cask Auchentoshan from this same bottler, and began to wonder if something terribly wrong happened to this sherry cask too. Buyer’s Remorse set in.

When 2020 decided to be all 2020 about everything, I figured if this Ledaig was indeed demon piss then this was the right year to find out.

Cheers.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Owner: Distell International Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Independent Bottler: AD Rattray
Age: 17 years (3 April 1998 - 1 Sept 2015)
Maturation: Sherry Butt
Cask number800036
Outturn: 528 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 65.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from my bottle)

I tasted this whisky at three ABV levels, side by side, for the purposes of this review:

FULL STRENGTH, 65.8%abv
There's no alcohol burn to the nose, but there are three peat levels trading fours: Farm, Moss and Ocean. Chalk dust and stones fill in the midground. Black plums, dried cherries and toffee chips perch in the background. And occasionally a cashew hint ekes out. The palate is VERY approachable for this ABV. Black walnuts, manure, and a salty, savory broth sit up front. Sweet citrus, nectarines and baking spices are in the back. The monolithic finish is all stones, earth, salt, herbal smoke and bitter chocolate.

DILUTED TO ~50%abv, or 2 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose goes medicinal, with lots of iodine and band-aids. But there are also candied pecans, orange peels, seaweed and manure. The palate becomes intensely salty, like ocean water and kelp. It grows sweeter and more aromatic with time, gaining a good selection of citrus fruits. It finishes salty and savory. Some mossy smoke, dark chocolate and limes appear after a while.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or >2½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Much more variety in the nose now. Industrial smoke and elephant manure. Walnuts, dried herbs and hay. Dark chocolate and cherries. The palate remains very very salty and a herbal bitterness develops around the edges. Bits of brown sugar and raspberry jam in the background. Bitter chocolate and dried stone fruits finish it up.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Immediately upon finishing my first pour from this bottle I was convinced that the 65.8% abv was a typo. It drank much too easily. Perhaps the label was supposed to read 56.8% (which was the ABV of the previous Rattray I reviewed, coincidentally), or 55.8%. I was convinced there was something fishy going on, and not the usual Weird-Era Ledaig fishiness.

But after this tasting my doubt has decreased. In fact after the tasting I was utterly hammered and my mouth was numb. And at ~46%abv, the whisky was still gigantic. Had the original ABV been 56.8%, and I'd added the same amount of water, the dilution would have dropped it to about 39%abv, and that was no 39%abv whisky.

Ignoring all the numbers, I must say this is a terrific whisky. Its sheer brutality keeps it from ascending to the 90+ point team. Heaps upon heaps of sea salt and bitter chocolate fill the palate, and Octomore-levels of peat punish the nose. And also manure. It's a manure monster. You can add water, but it won't save you.

Availability - Possibly still around on The Continent
Pricing - I bought it for $120 four years ago, now it appears to be closer to $150-$200 (pending exchange rates)
Rating - 89

Friday, November 20, 2020

Tormore 33 year old 1984 Cadenhead Authentic Collection

It's difficult to find 1980s-distilled single malts, it's even more difficult to find 1980s-distilled single malts for prices lower than a mortgage payment. Luckily, independent bottlers like Signatory, Cadenhead and the Laings have released a few dozen 1980s Tormore single casks in the $150-$250 range over the past few years. I often eyed those offerings but never wound up committing to any, so I don't know what to tell you about their actual quality. Today's sample, from a bottle split, will be my first try of a 1980s Tormore, and I don't know what to expect.


Distillery:
 Tormore
Ownership: Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard)
Region: Morayshire, Speyside
Bottler: Cadenhead
Range: Authentic Collection
Age: 33 years old (1984 to Autumn 2017)
Maturation: bourbon barrel
Outturn: 132 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 51.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(from a bottle split)

NEAT
The nose begins with a nice combination of cinnamon custard, heavily toasted cashews and walnuts, and pine sap. Then twigs and dead leaves. Cinnamon rolls and toasted marshmallows. A little bit of naked barley still remains after more than three decades. The palate goes a different direction. Cantaloupes, lemons, nectarines and Lucky Charms "marshmallows" show up first. Then toasted salted almonds tossed with rosemary. Oak gradually settles in, until a bitterness begins to register at the 45 minute mark. It finishes very sweetly with some tart fruit and toasted nuts in the background. A little bit of that bitter oak sneaks in after a while.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose doesn't open up. In fact it feels muted. Boston cream, baby powder, citrons and a hint of wood smoke are all I can find. There's less fruit in the palate, though as whole it all reads sweeter. Then there's some toasted coconut and oversteeped black tea. This feels like it's closing up as well. It finishes tangy, tart and tannic.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Puzzled to see how highly this Tormore was rated by the Whiskybase community, I was thankful to see Angus had experienced the same limited enthusiasm as I. The whisky's fine. It's perfectly drinkable when neat and the nose is the overall highlight. That the oak has started to get its hooks into the palate isn't surprising at 33 years, so this may have been a better cask five years earlier. Adding just a little bit of water squelched the best parts. It's a nice drink, but one can't fault a buyer for expecting more from a whisky at this age and price.

Availability - May still be available at some Cadenhead shops
Pricing - ~€265 w/VAT
Rating - 84 (neat only)

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Tormore 14 year old Connoisseurs Choice

As I mention in nearly every review of a Gordon & MacPhail whisky, I appreciate the pre-2018 Connoisseurs Choice range more than I actually enjoy its whiskies. For nearly two decades it offered lesser-seen single malts at reasonable prices, unfortunately the results were rarely interesting. This was partially due to low abvs, 40% then 43%, but even after it moved 46%abv I didn't find a CC whisky I actually enjoyed. This was also wasn't due to the quality of blander blendier distilleries, as a 46% sherry cask Caol Ila demonstrates. One wonders if the casks are the culprits. I have no problem with milder, almost-neutral casks, but there's a dullness to so many of the CC whiskies that perhaps their wooden vessels tended to be (figuratively) flat.

With that in mind, here's a Tormore aged in first-fill bourbon barrels. Who woulda thunk it?

Distillery: Tormore
Ownership: Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard)
Region: Morayshire, Speyside
Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Range: Connoisseurs Choice
Age: minimum 14 years old
Maturation: first fill bourbon barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

The nose begins bready and minty, with small notes of walnuts, figs and dried grass clippings. Some dried lavender and thyme. Some apple peels. There's something mossy and organic in the background, but it isn't quite peat or smoke. The palate immediately offers the caramel and vanilla cream combo that always reminds me of Cow Tales candy. At the same time it's very malty in a Westland way. Some barrel-aged stout. Then a bit of bitterness and a few limes. It finishes with a peppery heat, some vanilla and malt (in that order). Chocolate stout, dried oregano and a mild bitterness.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This shows an oak wallop surprising for this series, though it never gets out of hand because the whisky maltiness grounds the palate. Heck, it's probably one of the most loudest pre-2018 Connoisseurs Choice whiskies I've had. It's also neither particularly complex nor interesting after the second sip. So the casks are probably not the problem this time. Again, one can see why this Tormore would be a good base for a blend, as one builds a better whisky on top of it. Yet one can find many worse single malts from sexier distilleries, even within CC's range.

Availability - Possibly in the US? Though possibly sold out.
Pricing - ???
Rating - 81

Monday, November 16, 2020

Tormore 16 year old (2018)

You've been waiting all decade for this:

TORMORE WEEK.

You're welcome.

One of the main ingredients in Ballantine's blended whisky, Tormore has been around for all of 62 years and has already passed from Long John Distillers to Whitbread to Allied Lyons/Domecq to Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard). The distillery's product been blend fodder for most of its life, showing up sporadically as a 5 or 10 year old single malt during earlier decades, then as a 12 year old during the Aughts. In 2014, a 14 and 16 year old formed a new official range, with the latter malt bottled non-chillfiltered at 48%abv. Though that setup sounds promising the malts are only released in less than a handful of European countries. Thus Pernod Ricard doesn't seem to take the Tormore single malt that seriously. Gotta bottle more Ballantine's.

Today I'll be reviewing the 16 year old from what I believe is a 2018 batch. All sarcasm aside, I've been looking forward to this one, hoping to find promise in a lesser-loved distillery.

Distillery: Tormore
Ownership: Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard)
Region: Morayshire, Speyside
Age: minimum 16 years old
Maturation: "American Oak" per labels
Bottling year: 2018 (I think)
Alcohol by Volume: 48%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Probably
(from a purchased sample)

NOTES

Honey, roasted grains and roasted nuts on the nose, in fact there's a lot of honey in this one. Some white peaches and date rolls. Orange peels and cloves, slightly reminiscent of mulled wine. It becomes earthier with time. The palate is very malty, with an oily mouthfeel. It's loaded with citrus: think limes, yuzu and clementines. A touch of bitter herbal liqueur around the edges and some earthiness in the background. It finishes with a balance of sweet and tart citrus fruits up front, with the bitter liqueur lingering in the back. Plenty of malt fills the middle.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

In addition to enjoying the malt assault, I could have sworn there was some sherry cask action in the mix but perhaps that's just a combination of rich oak and a bold spirit? While it's neither subtle nor intellectual, Tormore 16 is a thick, bold whisky, and one I wish was more widely available. One can see how it would fit in a Compass Box-style vatting or as a flavoring malt in a good blend, but still it does work as a single malt, one with more flair than I'd expected from the Tormore factory.

Availability - A few European countries, and possibly Japan?
Pricing - around €60 - €80 with VAT
Rating - 86