...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Ursa Major III 13 year old 2006 Scotch Universe

The full name of this one is Ursa Major III - 158° U.2.1 1843.1" TS, which is kind of dorky and a pain in the ass, but I also adore it. Scotch Universe has gone Full Fuck It Mode and named all of its 110+ whiskies after celestial bodies. Then they added in some coding to out-nonsense the SMWS, while also disclosing whisky info.

In this instance:
158 = Months of maturation
U = Unpeated
2 = Sherry cask (allegedly)
1 = First Fill
1843 = the year Morangie distillery's license was obtained
1 = Highlands (allegedly)
TS = tough shit Teaspooned

Here's the label from the official site:

And here's my sample bottle, obtained via a bottle split:

Distillery: Glenmorangie
Ownership: LVMH
Region: Northern Highlands
Bottler: Scotch Universe
Age: 13 years (2006 - 2020)
Maturation: first-fill Oloroso hogshead
Cask #: 158° U.2.1 1843.1" TS
Alcohol by Volume: 61.5%
(from a bottle split)


The nose leads with apricot jam, cardamom, cookie dough and a dab of Elmer's glue. Then some maple fudge, and more plums than prunes. It gets even louder when reduced to 50%abv. Dates, dates and more dates in the foreground, with red bean paste and maple syrup in the background.

Cherry Coke and a whiff of earthy smoke. That's how the palate begins. It's also grapey, but in an armagnac way, as opposed to sherry. It's sweet, but never too sticky, and has plenty of lemons in the backgound. It's also very easy to drink considering its poison level. At 50%abv, its sweetness (cherry cola and dates), bitterness (raw cacao) and tartness (lemon zest) stay well aligned.

Sweet citrus and semisweet chocolate highlight the warm finish. My written notes for the diluted 50%abv version start with "sherry bomb-ish", which......I'm sorry. But I do also mention bitter coffee, PX and a hint of dates.


This was so much more enjoyable than I had expected. If it is "sherry bomb-ish" (sorry, again), it's not of the generic sort, but is instead a mix of fruits and sweets (gotta love those dates!), with an occasional grungy touch. It certainly beats the tar out of most of the official limited editions.

Availability - Alemania (which is either Germany or beer craziness or both)
Pricing - €85
Rating - 87

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Westport 16 year old 2005 Single Cask Nation, cask 2112

Monday's Westport Glenmorangie was from a refill hoggie, while today's is from a 2nd fill Oloroso butt. It has quite some color to it, so either the cask was re-seasoned and/or a bit charred. But the real news here is that I am writing about a whisky that was released this year. My sincerest apologies for reviewing something that may almost be of current interest. 

: Glenmorangie
Ownership: LVMH
Region: Northern Highlands
Bottler: Single Cask Nation
Age: 16 years (March 2005 - May 2021)
Maturation: second-fill Oloroso butt
Cask #: 2112
Outturn: 577 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 50.6%
(from a bottle split)


In its first burst the nose shows oats and bulgur, as well as plum wine and strawberry bubblegum. It gradually settles into a nice combination of toasted barley, orange peel and cassis. Once the whisky is reduced to 43%abv, there's a good middle ground of toasted grains and toasted oak, then nutty sherry and canned peaches. Very pretty.

The palate starts with citrus and malt, and some raw nuts in the background. It adds almond cookies and lime candy without ever getting too sweet. A little bit of toasted oak and cayenne in there as well. Things go the wrong direction once diluted to 43%abv, as sugar and bitter oak take over. Keep it neat.

It finishes with oranges, limes, cayenne and a dab of honey. See the palate note regarding the 43%abv level.


I really enjoyed this one. It's not very complex, but it's a great drinker at full strength, big and friendly with just enough oak, never getting boring. It almost reads like a muscular version of the very good official 18yo. It's 50% more expensive than the 18, which is understandable since this is a single cask, but I'm still in no mood to dish out $150+ for a 16 year old whisky. If that is no problem for you, you can do a lot worse at this price.

Availability - The States
Pricing - $150 - $175
Rating - 87 (neat only)

Monday, October 18, 2021

Westport 24 year old 1996 Thompson Brothers, cask 2502

I don't take the whole teaspooned-whisky thing seriously. For instance, Westport is Glenmorangie. I don't care what other distillery's teaspoon of single was added to the cask, its influence (and quantity) is infinitesimal compared to the wine in the casks of Glenmorangie's official releases. The indie bottlers have my sympathies for this enforced goofy antiquated charade.

Since I've tried all the official Glenmos I would ever care to try, and have settled on the 18yo and 25yo as my favorites, it's time for me to review a few independently bottled single casks of the Northern Highlands distillery. So I have trio of IBs for this week, and I'll go in reverse — oldest to youngest — starting with today's bottling from the Thompson Bros of Dornoch.

Distillery: Glenmorangie
Ownership: LVMH
Region: Northern Highlands
Bottler: Thompson Brothers
Age: 24 years (1996 - 2020)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Cask #: 2502
Outturn: 193 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 50.9%
(from a bottle split)


Tree bark, metal, vanilla, grass and apricots appear first in the quirky nose. It gradually picks up notes of cheap plastic toys and burnt coconut. There's something very "grain whisky" about this. Maybe it's the coconut? Well, a lot more coconut shows up once the whisky is reduced to 43%abv, like Coconut City (a.k.a. Invergordon). A slight nectarine note appears as well, which is good news.

The palate is much different and, in my opinion, much better. The woody and grain whisky notes have been replaced by a strong maltiness and tangy citrus (oranges and lemons), along with fresh cilantro and serrano chiles. Plantains sit in the background. At 43%abv, it's still malty and a bit grassy, with floral and bitter citrus notes arriving later.

It finishes sweeter than the palate, with rooty bitterness and lemons around the edges. At 43%abv, it finishes with malt and bitter citrus.


The Whiskybase community is over the moon about this whisky, but I am not. Though the nose was unusual, it wasn't on the positive side of unusual. As I'd mentioned, it was like some scrambled Invergordon of indeterminate age. But the palate was pretty darn good and moderately complex. The vast gulf between the styles and qualities of the nose and palate makes this a difficult whisky to sort out. But I'll err on the side of flavor because whisky is for drinkin'.

Availability - Probably sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 82

Friday, October 15, 2021

Three sherry cask Blair Athols over 20 years old

There's a Blair Athol scarcity on these pages as well, so I decided to pack THREE into one post. Sort of a Lighting Round, but Diving for Pearls style, which means TL;DR. Let's fire it up!

Blair Athol 20 year old 1995 Old Malt Cask
Sherry butt HL12149, 50%abv

The nose beings with an almost phenolic intense burst of raw nuts, followed by orange peels and a dingy industrial note. Grapefruit and mango fill the background. It gets maltier once diluted to 46%abv, and picks up little bits of fudge and ocean. The orange peel and mango remains.

Sweet citrus and pink peppercorns start the palate. Raw almonds and black walnuts arrive next, followed by grapefruits and limes. The nose's industrial note shows up once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv. It also has a great mix of sweet and tart with grapefruits, dates and orange pixy stix.

Plums, grapefruit and Rainier cherries in the finish! At 46%, the finish matches the palate.

I enjoyed this Blair Athol so much more than I'd expected. The fruits and nuts were near perfect, and there was neither heavy oak nor generic dried fruit notes. It's a charmer with or without water. This is a bottle I wish I had bought five years ago.

Rating - 90

Blair Athol 26 year old 1988 Signatory for K&L Wine Merchants
Refill sherry butt 6844, 54.3%abv

The nose has two sides that meet well. Rye seeds, eucalyptus, gooey toffee and very old wood. And guava juice, figs, grapefruit and fern leaves. Reduced to 46%abv, it moves towards antiques and fabrics. Then stones, minerals and grapefruit.

The palate matches the nose well. There are grapefruits, figs, black walnuts, oranges and black raisins. It gets sweeter with time, while also picking up an oaky zing. At 46%abv, golden raisins and black raisins take the foreground, with eucalyptus and toasted oak in the background.

Oranges, figs, carob and a hint of drying tannins make up the finish. At 46%abv, it's mostly raisins and pepper with a bit of tannin.

Though the oak is much more present here than on the 20yo, I like the whisky quite a bit. The nose is fantastic diluted or not. I prefer the palate and finish at full strength because the oak seems more in check. Beware, My Annoying Opinions and I both like this K&L single cask. And it's way too late for us to get in on the old price.

Rating - 89

Blair Athol 25 year old 1988 Signatory
Wine-treated butt 6789, 59.0%abv

(Okay, it's not officially a sherry cask. It's possible that this cask was seasoned with a fortified wine, like sherry, rather than having that stuff mature in the cask before dumping. So it's more descriptive, yet more vague than "Sherry Butt".)

Once braving the nose's alcohol burn, one can find toasted walnuts, toasted pine nuts and LOTS of gunpowder. There's leather, dusty upholstery, fig and vanilla extract further back. Diluting to 46%abv pushes the sulphur even further forward. Beef stock, cherry soda, fig and vanilla fill out the rest.

The palate has less sulphur than the nose. It's more of a gunpowder and pepper seasoning. It has has some sweetness from dried cherries and dried cranberries; then some old bourbony oak, rubber and leather. It gets more metallic at 46%abv, while also developing tart citrus notes. Grains and paper linger in the background.

Cherry syrup, salt and rubber in the finish. It finishes sweet, peppery, tannic and tangy at 46%abv.

While this may have been a serviceable whisky on its own (for non-sulphurphobes), this Blair Athol got its ass handed to it firmly by the previous two. The aggressive "wine-treated" vessel kept everything from merging well. But I did enjoy the nose very much even with the gunpowder.

Rating - 81

Those results were the opposite of what I'd expected: 123 rather than 321. And I didn't anticipate handing out an 89 or 90. So the tasting was a win! And as exciting as the thought of Signatory keeping its 1988 Blair Athols aging for more than 30 years may be, I think 25 is already pushing things a bit. Of course that depends on the cask. More refills please!

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Benrinnes 1979-1998 Scott's Selection

I split this bottle with The Coopered Tot back in the winter of 2014. Life was different for both of us then. But it was an awesome evening full of whisk(e)y nerdery and drinking in the Newer Jersey. I miss humans.

Two fluid ounces of this Benrinnes have awaited their freedom, trapped inside a sample bottle for seven years after being sequestered in a 750mL container for seventeen years after being cloistered in a cask for about nineteen years. And now the whisky will pass through my organs. What a life!

Distillery: Benrinnes
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Speyside (Moray)
Bottler: Scott's Selection
Age: ~19 years (1979 - 1998)
Maturation: "Oak casks" (can you believe it?!)
Outturn: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 58.0%
(from a bottle split)


The nose begins with rocks + steel wool, and musty wood + dunnage. It shifts a bit by the 30 minute mark with notes of key lime pie filling, witbier, lemon cake, orange pixy stix and flower blossoms. There's some saline and something farmy in the background. 

The palate goes another direction. It's full of metal and charred beef. Vanilla and burnt dates. It gets VERY acidic with time.

It finishes sweet, ashy and acidic.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv

The nose is quite lovely. Chocolate, red bean paste and nutmeg up front. Saline in the middle. Key lime pie and Black & Milds in the back.

Sweeter and more approachable, the palate dishes out lemons and oranges, wort and bitter herbs. There's still a charred meat note in the background, along with a pinch of OBE.

It finishes with metallic lemons.


I split up the diluted and neat notes again because the whisky changes so much, for the better, once water is added. As with Monday's Benrinnes, this one doesn't cater to any popular category of single malt style, I just liked this one's challenge better thanks to how well the dissimilar parts played together. And also the fruits! Josh, we picked a good one.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87

Monday, October 11, 2021

Benrinnes 21 year old 1992, Special Release 2014

Diving for Pearls is short on Benrinnes posts because I've rarely seen bottlings that interested me, stores (when they did ship) offer few Benrinnes samples, and my bottle splitting buddies rarely have Benrinnesses open. But I do have two reviews of this quirky Speyside malt planned for this week, with both whiskies resulting from the distillery's now retired idiosyncratic ~3x distillation process.

Diageo released today's sherry cask Benrinnes as part of their Special Releases set back in 2014. And despite positive reviews, it can still be easily found via online European retailers seven years later. I'm curious why a limited edition dark-hued sherried Speysider is still hanging around. Is it the price? Is it the lack of name recognition? Or am I about to find out?

Distillery: Benrinnes
Region: Speyside (Moray)
Ownership: Diageo
Range: Special Releases
Age: 21 years (1992 - 2014)
Maturation: sherry casks
Outturn: 2,892 bottles
Bottling date: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 56.9%
(from a bottle split)


The nose begins with dark chocolate, steel wool, cooper and burnt things (like hay and hair). There's a bit of a funky Loch Lomond-style garbage note in the background, along with toasted oak and toffee. (That was a party-in-a-glass right there.)

The palate is heavy, ashy and peppery, devoid of sweetness. Notes of bitter nuts, bay leaves, dried rosemary, leather and metal build with time.

The ash and metal continue into the finish, with quieter notes of rosemary, mint leaves and tangy chiles developing with time.

I think this needs to be diluted.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv

More approachable now, the nose shows mint, cherries, saline and fudge at the start. It gets beach-like with time, yet always holds onto that burnt note.

The palate gets bitterer and more tannic, but not terribly so. Sugar and minerals provide some angles.

Meanwhile, the finish gets milder, less ashy. It's gently sweet and mineral with a little bit of charred corn.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv

Don't do it. Just don't.


Easy to admire but difficult to enjoy, this Benrinnes is far from what anyone would consider a generic sherried Speysider. It provides a challenging drinking experience, and requires concentration and struggle, perhaps like working through some quadrants of avant-garde jazz. Just don't add too much water (to the whisky, not the jazz) because the bitter oak takes over entirely. Fight it out at full volume first.

Availability - It's still around, mostly in Europe
Pricing - $350 to $500
Rating - 85 (ignore this score)

Friday, October 8, 2021

The fate of one bottle: Ardlair 6 year old 2011 Signatory, cask 900027

Despite all the grousing I've done about ultra young whiskies and massive ABVs, I went ahead and bought a bottle of 63.3%abv 6 year old Ardlair. Because Ardmore. Specifically unpeated Ardmore.

What does a grump like me do with a whisky I'd never buy were it not for its name? After trying a couple of glasses of Ardlair at full strength, I decided I'd proof it down to different levels to see where its prime drinking point lay.

My preferred ABV range for most whiskies is 45-50%, so I aimed for 46% and 50%. I also wanted to see what happened at 40% and 43%. Because matters weren't that simple and I wasn't confident in trying to play with liquid volumes smaller than 1mL, I wound up with these ABVs: 38%, 42.2%, 46.4% and 50.6%. Then I let them sit for about 72 hours.

At the end of those three days, I poured each 15mL amount into its own mini Glencairn, then brought a fifth half-ounce to the game, at full strength.

Distillery: Ardmore
Malt: Ardlair
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Independent Bottler: Signatory Vintage
Age: 6 years (27 Jan 2011 - 5 Sept 2017)
Maturation: Refill Butt
Cask#: 900027
Bottle: 260 of 646
Exclusive to: The Winebow Group
Alcohol by Volume: 63.3%


The nose is plenty potent even at this level of dilution. Manischewitz (Concord Grape) with cracked black pepper and raw almonds show up first. Apple cider and cookie dough appear later.

The palate is quite sweet with all of its grape candy. A little bit of black pepper and salt linger in the background. It starts to get bitter after 30 minutes, and pencil shavings show up.

There are grape candies, pencil shavings and woody bitterness in the finish.

As per my notes, the whisky is ultra grapey here, but it's an almost artificial grapiness. It's all very curious until a much too familiar woodiness appears, leaving me unmotivated to ever lower it to this level again.

Rating range: C- (70-73)

DILUTED TO 42.2%abv

Though the nose does show grape juice and grape Jolly Rancher notes, they take a back seat to mixed nuts, wet sand and brine.

The palate is less sweet and less grapey than the 38%abv version. There are more grasses, lemons and salt now.

It finishes peppery and salty, almost smoky at times, with a much calmer sweetness.

I would happily drink the whisky at this strength. It reads ultra young, of course, but the wood and sherry are much more reserved. A pleasant surprise!

Rating range: B-/B (81-84)

DILUTED TO 46.4%abv

Malt enters the picture, trying valiantly (though ultimately failing) to stand up to the grapes in the nose. BBQ pulled pork, whole wheat toast and canned albacore (yes, really) develop later on.

The palate picks up some fight, but in the form of ethanol. It's very dry. Maybe a little bit of wort in there. It gains sugar and pepper with time.

It has a longer finish than the previous two, but it reads as neutral spirit flavored with grape juice and pepper.

This resulted in a different sort of surprise. The nose held promise, but the palate went an odd direction, one that was interesting in theory but not pleasing to consume.

Rating range: C/C+ (76-79) maybe?

DILUTED T0 50.6%abv

The nose mellows out at this strength. The meat and fish notes move to the background, while dry sherry and very dry red wine notes show up in the front. The grape candy returns at the 45 minute mark.

The palate is dry, nutty, tangy and grainy. But the neutral spirit note is still there.

Here it finishes like serrano pepper-infused neutral spirit.

This ethanol / neutral spirit thing is very strange. I've never tinkered with such a young whisky before. Does diluting baby spirits always reveal their poisonous hearts?

Rating range: C/C+ (76-79) maybe?

FULL STRENGTH - 63.3%abv

Ahh, NO GRAPE THINGS in the nose. Okay, perhaps some golden raisins. But the fruits mostly show up as dried currants, dried blueberries and apple cider. A little bit of salty pork sits in the background.

And no neutral spirit in the palate. If it reads like any unaged spirits, I'd go with eau de vie. But it's mildly sweet, a little grassy and lemony. Hints of toasted oak spices. Very drinkable considering the strength.

It finishes with lemons, chile oil and golden raisins. Some heat, some sweet.

Much closer to whisky now, and less of a jumbled weirdo. The sherry butt was more aggressive in the nose than the palate, which I greatly appreciate.


This experience turned out stranger than I'd expected. Tuna, Manischewitz and neutral spirit...and at diluted levels? I wonder if similar oddities occur when playing with other barely legal rocket fuel single malts.

Drinking 63.3%abv spirits isn't a particularly pleasing experience for me, so I was hoping for some better results from the diluted pours, but was disappointed in 3/4 of the results. 82 is a damned good score for 6 year old whisky here on this blog, but I'm rarely motivated to sip a B- whisky, even if it is from Ardmore Distillery. Careful reductions to the 42-43%abv range may be the fate of this bottle's contents.

Availability - Chicago
Pricing - $55
Rating - 82

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Balblair 21 year old Gordon & MacPhail (bottled 2017)

Between 2015 and 2017, Gordon & MacPhail bottled batches of 21 year old Balblair from their prodigious warehouses. I'm thankful they didn't water the whisky down to 40%abv, but it would have been nice if G&M had offered it up in a 46%abv/nc/ncf version once the big indie brand rebooted. Instead they're offering a 12yo 43%abv Balblair.

I don't know what sort of casks are at play in this 21yo, though I'm assuming it was filtered and colored because G&M never stated otherwise. Today's batch was (I think) the 2017 version released in The States. I've always enjoyed the 8-year-old Highland Park from The MacPhail's Collection, so I hope this works as a solid straightforward malt as well.

Distillery: Balblair
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Northern Highlands
Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Range: The MacPhail's Collection
Age: at least 21 year old
Maturation: ???
Outturn: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
(from a bottle split)


The nose begins with sour apple candy and cinnamon sticks, followed by Brazil nuts, white flour and roasted corn. There's a pear note in the background that moves from fresh Bartletts to the canned variety.

There's actual malt and wort in the palate! Raw almonds, grapefruit bitters and tapioca pudding fill the middle, while ginger candy rests in the background.

It finishes with barley, salt, peppery heat and just a little bit of caramel candy.


I've seen reviewers refer to whiskies as "honest". I'm not quite sure what that means, nor do I comprehend the use of personification in whisky notes. But maybe this Balblair would be categorized as "honest". It's a simple, uncluttered whisky, not particularly exciting, full of grain, light on oak, and very drinkable. Had I tried this blindly, I would have guessed it was half its actual age, which isn't a bad thing if price is no barrier. Ultimately it doesn't top any of the vintage-era Balblairs (younger or older) that I've tried.

Availability - It's still around
Pricing - $150 and up
Rating - 81

Monday, October 4, 2021

Balblair 38 year old 1966

My brother and his wife just welcomed their second child, and first daughter, to this world. They're in a for a treat! Of course, my bias towards daughters began seven years and five months ago.

I tried to arrange the whisky schedule so that I could review this 38 year old sherry cask whisky as close as possible to my niece's birth. So here we are!

Balblair distillery's penchant for single malt vintages predates the recent squat bottles familiar to many of us. They released this 1966a 1970 and 1979 in 2004-2005, but also offered up about a half dozen 1970s vintages at the millenium's turn. This 1966 whisky was distilled during Robert "Bertie" Cumming's ownership. Mothballed in 1911, the distillery remained silent (aside from military usage during World War Two) for 37 years until Cumming bought and reopened it. Cumming sold Balblair to Hiram Walker in 1970, and corporate mergers and acquisitions have taken place ever since.

But more importantly, it's time to drink some old whisky.

Distillery: Balblair
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Northern Highlands
Age: 38 years old (1966 - September 2004)
Maturation: 2nd Fill Oloroso Sherry Casks
Outturn: 2,400 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 44%
(from a bottle split)


Black walnuts start off in the nose's background, then slowly roll forward until they take top billing about 40 minutes in. Subtle coastal and dunnage notes frame marzipan, Luxardo cherries and fresh thyme. As the hour passes, toffee, grapefruits, and finally guavas appear.

Earth and herbs meet mango, dried cranberries and Cara Cara oranges in the early palate. It gets zestier with time, and a little sweeter. Two different leafy notes appear as well: first a chlorophyll/green character, then tobacco. The fruits recede to the edges.

Nectarines and dried apricots join the oranges in the finish. It evolves from fruity honey sweetness to a sharp tartness, then the wood starts to edge in.


Over the past few years I've become a sucker for the black walnut note. But black walnut + dunnage + guava?! This whisky's nose is, as I wrote down, "an all-timer". The palate's fruits are very good, and not surprising to this old Balblair fan. But the earthiness was a bit of a shock, a welcome shock at first. Perhaps that character came from the oak, because the beams started showing in the finish. And the finish is truth. Had everything matched the nose, my goodness...

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - $,$$$
Rating - 90 (but the nose tho)

Friday, October 1, 2021

Killing Whisky History, Episode 37: White Horse, bottled 1985-1989

White Horse blended scotch returns (see Episode 1), but this time it's in a bigger bottle from the '80s! The whisky was bottled way down at 40%abv, but I was willing to take a chance on it because......White Horse.

Was it a good idea? If so: There's so much whisky in the bottle! If not: There's so much whisky in the bottle!

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Balblair 11 year old 2006 cask 711, hand-filled at the distillery

Monday brought a winey sherried 2006 Balbair. Today I have for the benefit of us all a Balblair from an unstated cask type. It has some color to it, but not the dark maroon of Monday's cask. This particular pour comes from a bottle filled by the hands behind My Annoying Opinions. There's a problematic joke hiding in that previous sentence, but I'm no Randy Brandy so I'll avoid it. I'll just drink the whisky.

Distillery: Balblair
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Northern Highlands
Age: 11 years old (2006-2018)
Maturation: unknown....
Cask #: 711
Exclusive to: the distillery!
Alcohol by Volume: 58.2%
(thank you to My Annoying Opinions)


Shortbread biscuits, oranges and apricots arrive first in the nose. Hints of roses and lemongrass stay in the background. The fruits get louder once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv, followed by new notes of cardamom, mint chewing gum and grassiness.

The palate starts with barley (imagine that), lemons and oats. There's something earthy about it as well, though not quite smoky. Mild sweetness and oak spice color the background. It gets at nice thick texture when diluted to 46%abv. There are pears, apricots and honey. Almost brandy-like. A touch of dill in the back.

It finishes with lemon juice and lime lollies, sweeter than the palate but not too desserty. Pears, mint and lemons highlight the conclusion at 46%abv.


Balblair rolled this one out just before the oak started throwing 'bows, which shows they're willing to demonstrate some cask management even for the visitors! I like this stuff, as the fruit and grain balance well with the wood notes. Sir Opinions and I found very similar characteristics in the nose, but he found a bit more oak in palate. He picked a good one.

Next week, some older Balblair...

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - probably the definition of an 87 rating

Monday, September 27, 2021

Balblair 13 year old 2006, cask 76 for K&L Wine Merchants

I've long supported Balblair distillery, and look forward to cheering them on for years and decades to come. Aside from the bulky bottle and box design from before their recent reboot, the Balblair single malt brand comes with minimal flashiness and hubbub. And the whisky is great.

I'm glad they started releasing official single casks, and it's fun to see them plopping sherry butts and ex-Islay casks into the marketplace. And whenever (if ever) international shipping gets easier, I'll get a bottle from their current age-stated range.

With only four Balblair pours to share, I will spare you another cluster. I'll start the quartet with a pair of vintage 2006 single casks this week...

Distillery: Balblair
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Northern Highlands
Age: 13 years old (2006-2019)
Maturation: Spanish Oak Oloroso Butt
Cask #: 76
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants
Alcohol by Volume: 56.2%
(from a bottle split)


Marzipan, raspberries, earth and roses start the nose. It picks up more cask with time, gaining buttery caramel, prunes and toasted oak. The nose stays pretty similar once the whisky is diluted to 46%abv, though there are fewer prunes and more marzipan and caramel.

The palate is very winey, like the sweet Upstate New York reds (Thirsty Owl's Red Moon!) I used to drink almost two decades ago. Grape juice and caramel meet with raspberry syrup. It much mellower at 46%abv, feeling more like PX than Oloroso (or red wine, for that matter). It's jammy but not winey, specifically on blackberry preserves and dried currants.

It finishes sweet and warm, with grape juice and prunes. At 46%abv, one may find more blackberry jam and baking spices.


As per the above notes, this reads like a wine cask or one of McEwan's Black Farts. So, I guess one could say it's a contemporary sherry cask, complete with a dark reddish hue. It's not my jam — how often am I allowed to make that quip? — but it's not bad. I recommend diluting it, especially if, like me, you could do without all the prunes. Plus it feels more pulled together at 46%abv. I'd like to see this stuff with less fortified wine involved...

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - it was $110
Rating - 83 (diluted)

Friday, September 24, 2021

Glenrothes 1972-2005

I began this week essentially nominating Glenrothes for the The Great Meh Distillery title. Since then, I've had three very good Glenrothee. But surely a 30-something year old single malt distilled in 1972 will be bog water. Right?

Distillery: Glenrothes
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Speyside (Rothes!)
Age: 32-33 years (1972 - 2005)
Maturation: ???
Outturn: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 43%


The nose begins almost like an old Calvados, with baked apples and pears. Then there's the honey cake we had at kiddush in the synagogue when I was a kid. My notes then say "macrons"; did I mean macarons? Or does the whisky smell like France's first family? You decide. After that: hints of maple sugar, iodine and seaweed. Finally, again quoting my notes, "Sticky Icky in the BG". I can't imagine what that's supposed to mean.

Musty oak, sandalwood incense and a hint of cigarettes start off the palate. Tiny notes of dried herbs, dried apricots and dried leaves. But it's mostly a series of old oak tones, though not as far down the path as liquid furniture (see Pappy 23).

A little bit of sherry cask appears in the finish, along side cracked peppercorns, dried leaves and the palate's bitterness.


This is unlike any Glenrothes I've had before. But then again, I don't think I'd tried too many older than 20yo. Having completed three decades in a cask, and starting a fourth, the whisky has gradually taken on plenty of oak; the key word being "gradually." The result is a remarkably expressive nose. Though I liked the palate's aged tobacco-like style, the oak's dominance didn't leave room for much else. Again I wonder what this was like at cask strength, and what was lost in the dilution.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Glenrothes 16 year old 1979

I've never had Glenrothes from the 1970s, so this will be a first — and a second, since I have another sample from the Malaise Decade. Both whiskies are official bottlings weighing in at an overwhelming 43%abv. The first one was distilled in 1979, the year Pops Stargell and the Pirates knocked out the Orioles in the Series.

Distillery: Glenrothes
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Speyside (Rothes!)
Age: 16 years (3 August 1979 - 1995)
Maturation: ???
Outturn: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
(sample from a bottle split)


At first sniff, the whisky noses of roasted meat and roasted nuts with a side of paint VOCs. Then things get interesting. Mothballs and olive juice. Then caramel applies. Yuzu. Vanilla Bean. And finally, guava.

The palate begins very dusty, but by the third sip it takes off. First toffee, salt, lemons and Sugar Daddies (the candy). Then hints of tobacco ash and horseradish.

The finish comes in sweeter than the palate, but it also has the tobacco ash and hints of chile oil and tannin.


I've found my new favorite Glenrothes! Had it been bottled stronger (yes this song again), it may have been pretty fabulous. But at 43%abv, we're left with just pretty darned good. Though it has touches of tannin, vanilla and caramel, it doesn't feel like a contemporary woody thing because those elements take a backseat to much more interesting stuff. The nose itself is delightful.

Three high quality Glenrothes in a row? This is the strangest life I've ever known.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87

Monday, September 20, 2021

Two Glenrothes single malts distilled in 2001

You're screaming at your screen, "You stopped reviewing Highland Parks for THIS?"

And I'm like, "Yes?"

I recently marked ten years of Diving for Pearls whisky reviews with a re-review of the first Single Malt Report, Balvenie DoubleWood 12 year old. Ten years ago today, I started a streak of Glenrothes single malt reviews. That streak ended on 9/28/2011. There hasn't been a single Glenrothes post on this site since.

Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I have found Glenrothes to be one of the least inspiring single malts. It's a consistent C grade whisky that can hit B- range when it's hitting on all cylinders. And that's only when it's from a bourbon cask. Otherwise, it serves a blank canvas for other cask types. I tend to see it as malt filler for the sometimes-preferable Famous Grouse.

But then again, I haven't had a Glenrothes for more than six years, so I'm willing to give this Speysider another chance. My palate has gone through many changes, and I have four samples that aren't going to drink themselves. So here I go with the first two, both about 14 years old, both distilled in 2001, both bottled by indies, and both from fortified wine casks.


: Glenrothes
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Speyside (Rothes!)
Independent Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Age: 14 years (27 March 2001 - 2015)
Maturation: refill port pipe
Cask #: 30.87
Cask "name": A skinny dipping dram
Outturn: 738 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 55.6%
(Thank you to St. Brett for the sample!)

The nose leads with a surprising stinky aged cheese note (which alters one's view of the name SMWS bestowed upon the cask). Sugary things follow, like Luxardo cherries, gummy worms and black Twizzlers. Ginger ale and roses in the background. But that aged cheese note keeps everything from going overboard. The nose picks up a coastal note once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv. There's more salt and raw almonds, less candy.

Grapes and berries appear early in the palate, but so do salt and savory notes, thus it never gets too sweet. Lemons and minerals fill out the background. It shifts around a bit at 46%abv, with almonds, salt and hay up front; honey, pepper and bitterness in the back.

No sweetness in the finish, as the fruits (berries and citrus) are quite tart. A little bit of tannin, a few roses as well. At 46%abv it finishes with honey, oranges and black pepper.

I like this? I like this. The port pipe is certainly refill, but not dead. The spirit isn't particularly unique nor complex but it's solid and slightly spartan. I'd drink this any day. The nose works better without dilution, in my opinion, while the palate and finish do well with a little water. This was unexpected.

Rating - 86


Distillery: Glenrothes
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Speyside (Rothes!)
Independent Bottler: Malts of Scotland
Age: 14-ish years (2001 - 2015)
Maturation: sherry hogshead
Cask #: MoS 15029
Outturn: 182 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 52.8%
(sample from a bottle split)

The nose says clean cask. Loud cask. Rolos and Three Musketeers meet root beer and cherry popsicles. A little of bit of orange peel in the background. There are more nuts and berries at 46%abv, and less chocolate. Strawberry jam and roses fill the background.

Lotsa cask in the palate too. Bags of dried fruit, nearly overwhelm everything else. One may find candied lemon peel, sharp ginger beer and a hint bitterness way in the back. Reducing the whisky to 46%abv seems to thicken the palate's texture, and maybe brings out a touch of malt. Otherwise it's all almonds, dried sweet potato, caramel and a hint of chiles.

The finish mostly matches the palate with dried fruits, ginger and sugar leading the way. The sweetness nearly vanishes at 46%abv, and some tannins jump in. Then there are nuts, black peppercorns and dried sweet potatoes.

With its style and dark coloring, this is the sort of whisky that would have certain whisky fans vigorously stroking......the refresh button on their auction bids. It's not really my style, as it's one of those blank canvas 'Rotheses. But the cask is pretty good. It's a dessert thing at full power, nearly a liqueur, though I prefer it diluted.

Rating - 84

Those were the two best Glenrothes I've ever reviewed, and I would certainly sip both again, something I've never said about a Glenrothes single malt. Perhaps I should stop fooling around and get to the 1970s stuff...

Friday, September 17, 2021

Concluding the Highland Park cluster

This cluster wore me out. The comparisons were enlightening, and (even more importantly) I am not sick of Highland Park. This was also a good way to battle my significant Whisky Attention Deficit Disorder. But, still, the cluster structure feels a bit rigid. There's no room for improv nor inspiration. And I did miss all the other things. 

I'm going to recap and retire this cluster with some snippets of info. Since I have a decent sample size on hand, I'm going to analyze the data set using my always-consistent made-up scores!

Total Highland Parks - 28
Mean - 85.39
Median - 86
Mode - 90


There was no easy way to split this group by age, especially since seven of the whiskies were 18 years old. Had I split them at the 20 year mark, the distance between the average score of the two categories would have widened. Even if I'd dropped the highest and lowest score for each column, the difference would have remained the same. Older Highland Park scored better.

It's a dead heat! The bourbon casks had the highest (91) and lowest (70) ratings in the set. But the key is that 70-point Old Malt Cask. For these numbers, I guessed it was from a bourbon cask, as it had many bourbon notes on the nose. Were it a sherry cask, then the bourbon cask set would have been slightly stronger. (Also, this group does not include the unaged HP.)

Another near tie. The OB scores had a tighter range and a smaller standard deviation than the indies. One could chalk that up to the variety between single casks.

The 1984 OMC wrecked the average for the '70s & '80s. Without that whisky, that group's average was nearly 89. With that one in the mix, the average scores between decades aren't that dissimilar, which is good news for those of us who can only afford 21st century Highland Park.

The official bottlings that fell below 50%abv were MUCH better than those above 50%abv, and that's what pushed the lightest category into first place. The violent style of the young sherry bombs resulted in the third column's low scores.

I get High-land Park with a little help from my friends.

Twenty-eight different whiskies averaging out to a B grade qualifies as a very nice thing. That this happened with Highland Park is not a big surprise. The distillery's whiskies vary style — a little more sherry influence here, more smoke there, some ocean, some farm, bit of fruit, etc. — but the usual result is at least very good, and I think the HPs in this cluster bear that out.

One more round of thank yous go out to my friends who donated samples to this effort! As you can see in that last table, those whiskies made a difference. Now I'm going to take a break from clusters for a short while in order to catch up on all the other things.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Highland Park 26 year old 1977 Hart Brothers

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

I feel like I'm limping across the finish line for this cluster. Part of the exhaustion is due to life and all the things. Part of it is 28 Highland Parks, with only a pair of brief breaks. Part of it is oh my god it's only Tuesday as I type this?

This cluster comes to a close with, no, not a Cadenhead dumpy nor one of those official single cask monsters from the early 1970s, but a Hart Brothers 1977 that passed through a sherry cask's innards at some point. What, you expected something sexy? What makes this blog sexy is its lack of sexiness. Yeah, that's the ticket.

The good news about this one is that, unlike the 1978, the Bros didn't water it down to 43%abv. They let it live at 46%abv. Perhaps they had a change in philosophy between 1996 and 2004.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Range: Finest Collection
Age: 26 years old (November 1977 - September 2004)
Maturation: "Sherry finish"
Outturn: ????
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(from a bottle split)


Those nose is woody, but nicely so. Slightly toasted and kinda musty, like someone I know. But there's also plenty of ocean brine, fried plantains and roasted nuts. Maybe a hint of caramel to go with those plantains. After 30-ish minutes, a good combo of lime, burlap and coastal smoke arrives. The whisky changes a bit when reduced to 43%abv, with lemon, melon and basil up front; coal smoke in the back. Very mild overall.

Smoke, cayenne pepper, lemon and milk chocolate lead off the palate. The tannins roll right up to the too-much line without crossing it. With time in the glass, the whisky develops a slight medicinal note, which goes well with a solid mix of lemon candy and cayenne. The palate gets sweeter at 43%abv, while losing the citrus and gaining salt and bitterness.

The finish carries a moderate sweetness up front, from its citrus and honey, and a little bit of white pepper and acidity in the background. Diluted to 43%abv, the whisky finishes woodier, just holding onto the sweet citrus.


This Highland Park feels old school. It's not just the slightly creaky cask(s), nor its somewhat dusty quality; rather the sherry finish doesn't feel slathered on top, instead it's part of the whole. It's also a good thing the whisky was given those three extra alcohol points because it was collapsing as I reduced it, and may not have stood up to 17 years in a bottle. It's a good whisky, not tremendous, but a well made drink I'd be happy to pour at any time.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88 (neat only)

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Highland Park 27 year old 1984 The Whisky Agency

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

Monday's '84 Highland Park was......not what I had expected. But I carry on. Sometimes I really carry on. Ask my family or anyone I've ever worked with. You see, I have opinions about things. And so does the man in charge of the My Annoying Opinions blog. He generously provided me with today's sample from a bottle he opened for his _ _ birthday. You know what I opened for my last birthday? MALÖRT. Which I shared with Randy Brandy. Actually this sounds like a good sample swap...

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: The Whisky Agency
Range: Bugs. Seriously, Bugs. Beautiful labels.
Age: 27 years old (1984 - 2011)
Maturation: Bourbon hogshead
Outturn: 222 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 52.5%
(Many thank yous to My Annoying Opinions!)


The nose leads with ocean, cocoa, toasty oak and toasted nuts. Lemons and oranges. Wait, now I'm getting limes. And fresh basil leaf. Smoke arrives at the 45-minute mark, adding another great dimension. The elements merge well once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv. It gains some baking spices, but I find mostly nuts, malt and ocean, with a hint of grapefruit.

The palate has a stone fruit and salt combination that elicited from my face a sound, a wordless monosyllabic utterance that may have made passers-by turn their heads (and barf). A flawless balance of stones, sweetness, tartness and wood smoke arrives at the twenty minute mark, and remains for nearly an hour. Ocean notes and bitter herbs appear later, as does a white peach. At 46%abv, some more oak appears, but peaches and fresh apricots remain.

Its long finish holds dried leaves and dried grass, lemons, white peaches and a whiff of smoke. At 46%abv, the finish is simpler, a little earthier and sweeter perhaps.


Upon sniffing the whisky, I knew my recent streak of uninspiring whiskies was over. Yet I didn't think it was going to leap into 90-point territory. But then I actually tasted it, and yes it's excellent, especially when neat. The TWA folks dumped this cask at a great point, just as everything was in balance. If 25+ year old bourbon cask HPs were in my price range, this style is exactly what I'd seek out. Thank you, Mr. Opinions!

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

Monday, September 13, 2021

Highland Park 16 year old 1984 Old Malt Cask

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

It's time to wrap up this cluster. There will (probably) be a flurry of three posts in three days because Yom Kippur arrives on Thursday. My hope is to provide a thoughtful recap of the cluster on Friday.

Today's HP was distilled in 1984. I only vaguely remember 1984. But then again, I only vaguely remember 2019. Anyway, Douglas Laing has bottled at least ten Highland Parks from the 1984 vintage, but this was the first. With its 750mL listing in Whiskybase, the whisky appears to have been bottled for the USA. It's great to know we were getting OMCs back then. Too bad I was shooting vodka with Coors Light chasers in those days. Too bad, indeed.

I'm kinda spilling the beans with this picture.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Independent Bottler: Douglas Laing
Range: Old Malt Cask
Age: 16 years old (May 1984 - July 2000)
Maturation: "Cask" (woo, that narrows it down)
Outturn: 270 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
(from a bottle split)


For the first 30 minutes, the nose offers mothballs, metal, chalk, seaweed and apples. After that it takes a turn towards bourbon, with caramel, bananas and barrel char. Once the whisky is reduced to 43%abv, the nose turns simple, blendy, with hints of minerals, smoke and ocean.

The palate. SOAP. And also soap. Awkward Old Bottle Effect swoops around malt, sweet apples, bitterness and hints of oranges. The soap retreats a bit at 43%abv, only to be replaced by cardboard and tannins. It's a little sweeter, with more smoke and a touch of lemon.

It finishes with sweet citrus, OBE, cardboard and soap. At 43%abv, there's lemon, metal and cardboard.


This bottle was freshly opened when it was split up less than a year ago, so this isn't a case of a dusty going weird when met with years of oxygen. I also switched glasses twice. So it's the whisky.

There's a slight sample size issue when it comes to the Whiskybase community's opinion for this Highland Park. There are two ratings: a 91, and a 60. My take falls between the two, though closer to the latter. The palate is dramatically flawed with its soap, cardboard and heavy oaky bitterness. And though I tend to like Old Bottle Effect, it doesn't work well with any of the other characteristics in the palate. The nose doesn't do much to save it either, other than bringing the score up out of the 60s. I sincerely hope the last two HPs are better than this.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 70

Friday, September 10, 2021

Ben Nevis 32 year old 1971 Blackadder, cask 1626

Anniversary Week turned out a little wonky, so I've switched out today's planned pour for something that will either be weird or wonderful — frankly, I'll be happy with weird at this point — or both: a '71 Ben Nevis. I chose a diluted 26yo Ben Nevis as its sparring partner because I'm living large, y'all. Here it goes...

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Blackadder
Age: 32 years old (23 March 1971 - September 2003)
Maturation: oak hogshead
Cask #: 1626
Outturn: 296 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 45%
(sample from a bottle split)


Ah, good news. The whisky got its Weird on, right at the start. The nose has its saline, toasted seaweed, elephant dung side. But it also has its malty, Yoo-hoo, raisin bran side. Fresh cut fennel and apricot jam keep their distance in the background.

The palate is a bit odd, but also rather flat. Worcestershire sauce, prunes and black pepper start things off. Some armagnac eau de vie, bitter chocolate and rubber move forward. Bananas and pumpernickel sit in the middle. At the 45 minute mark it shifts to a one-note bitterness.

It finishes with bitter chocolate. black pepper, rubber, sea salt and red grapes, with just a hint of cabbage in the back.


It was indeed a little weird. But. None of the nose's interesting aspects carried into the palate. I'm not sure if this was a tired ex-sherry hoggie, or it was too aggressively diluted by bottler, but I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for the whisky to shift gears, and when it finally did that gear turned out only to be a generic oaky bitterness. I could have also done without the whole salty rubber thing. Ultimately this resulted in the consumption of more of the 26yo competitor. Oh well, it's time to switch back to the Highland Park cluster!

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ????
Rating - 81 (the nose kept this score up)

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Ten Years of Whisky Reviews + Balvenie 12 year old DoubleWood (2019)

I had already been dishing out #SingleMaltReports on Twitter for a few weeks before I posted my first whisky review here on September 8, 2011 (with admirably concise notes, I must say). The blog had been used for observations on film, music, sports, and the writing life before that; sort of a site for offline friends and Facebook "friends".

Diving for Pearls entered into the whisky blog game just as the single malt craze was blossoming. Since then I've watched age-stated and NAS whiskies rise and fall, formerly independent whisky writers do the industry's bidding as that same industry abandoned most of its loyal consumers for a newer, wealthier crowd, while producing products that appeal to my palate less and less with time.

While I do chase the occasional dusty, and resupply my cabinet with everyday sippers, I have not dished out funds for a fancy new release or new single cask since the pre-Covid era. Instead I've been joining bottle splits, which make up the majority of the reviews, or spending my money on other things. That's due to the two factors referenced above. I'm not interested in the worldwide focus on cask technology, nor do I care to pay the current prices for moderately-aged single cask scotch whiskies. Plus, my god, we whisky people have SO MANY BOTTLES already.

I've considered shutting the blog down, or at least pausing it, on a few occasions when personal matters became overwhelming, or when I went though a period of uninspiring tastings. But I never did stop. Writing this blog has led me to offline friendships, a few published reviews, some independent paid gigs, and a flood of dopamine.

I don't know how many more years this will continue. At this point the blog has returned to a tasting journal of mostly irrelevant whiskies — and the occasional Killing Whisky History video and Randy Brandy cameo — which suits me right now. To all those who are still reading, from the seasoned Boomers, to m-m-m-m-my whisky generation to the monied newbs: Thank you. Thank you for reading my words, for being my captive audience for a few minutes a few times a week. Your support means more than you will ever know.

Now to the whisky. Ten years ago today, my first review was of Balvenie 12 year old Doublewood, a regular presence in my tiny whisky cabinet back then. It's been at least six years since I've tasted Doublewood, so this will be a reintroduction between the two of us. Can we still be friends?

Distillery: Balvenie
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: American oak casks then Spanish oak sherry casks
Bottling year: 2019
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered: Yep
Colorant added: Yep
(from my bottle)


Pear, honey and cassia lead off the nose and stay there for a while. After 20ish minutes, the golden raisins, apple juice and kiwis appear. Hints of prunes, flowers and kirsch stay in the background.

The palate is hotter than expected, yet has a watery mouthfeel. It's more sour than tart, but thankfully it doesn't get too sweet once the brown sugar arrives. Oranges and vanilla sit in the middle, a touch of molasses in the back.

Lumber, lemons and vanilla finish off the first few sips. Later sips gain dried apricots and just a little sweetness.


Ten years ago I said Balvenie 12 year old DoubleWood "makes a great gateway Scotch." I cannot disagree with that now. But in previous decades this specific bottling's quality would have been topped by many 12 year old blends. There's not much going on in the glass(es). I'm not crazy about the oak in the finish nor the very thin texture, but the whisky never gets cloying nor too vanilla-ed. Water and ice bring out a little more raisiny fortified wine and bitterness. The second half of this bottle may find its way into highballs and cocktails because I can't summon up the interest to sip it neatly any further. I will move on.

Availability - Wide!
Pricing - $55 - $85 (what?)
Rating - 79

Monday, September 6, 2021

Banff 35 year old 1975 Duncan Taylor Rarest of the Rare, cask 3350

This week will mark the Highland Park cluster's last interruption. Wednesday will bring a surprising but mathematically correct anniversary, so please excuse this brief diversion. The cluster will restart a week from today.

I've always been a big fan of Banff. When it's good, it's as great as most of the beloved dead distilleries. When it's done wrong, well, I haven't had one of those yet. This is my last Banff sample. I don't foresee taking part in any future Banff bottle splits, because even those have become hella pricey. So let us (the royal 'us') close out the Banff experience with the longest-aged Banff I've ever Banffed, a 35yo from DT's warehouses.

Distillery: Banff
Ownership: DCL (proto-Diageo)
Independent Bottler: Duncan Taylor
Range: Rarest of the Rare
Region: Speyside (Deveron)
Age: 35 years old (November 1975 - March 2011)
Maturation: ???
Cask #: 3350
Outturn: 289 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 45.4%
(sample from a bottle split)


The nose is loaded with coal, coal stoves, chimneys, hot charcoal. There's some steel wool and saline in the background. But it's not all industry. Mango and guava juices ride up front with the coal. Yuzu, honey and shortbread biscuits drift across the periphery.

Sadly, the palate does not continue the narrative initiated by the nose. The first two sips begin respectably, with salt, bitter herbs, weed, copper, sweet oranges and nectarines. But then things go tannic. Very tannic. It becomes difficult to see beyond the oak. Perhaps some metal and citrus remain.

It has a mild finish. A little smoky and salty, with a bit of orange candy. But then the tannins move in.


This Banff's pinot grigio color gave me some high hopes, expectations that were bolstered by the nose. But then the palate revealed that this cask was as tired as I was at age 35. (I had my first newborn then, so that was my excuse.) Perhaps the whisky overstayed its welcome for a decade or so, or maybe this was always going to be a difficult cask. Taking the outturn and ABV into consideration, this was either a hoggie that abandoned its alcohol, or a wonky refill sherry butt, leaking everything. The spirit is still there in the nose, so a solid cask plus great management could have resulted in something gorgeous. But that was not the whisky's fate.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ????
Rating - 82

Friday, September 3, 2021

Killing Whisky History, Episode 36: King's Ransom, bottled 1957-1960

Killing Whisky History returns with Mafia whisky!

The episode has a slightly new look, but keeps the same format. So don't worry, you can still watch me drink in between the talking.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Highland Park 25 year old, 48.1%abv edition

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

Over the span of two decades, Highland Park gradually diluted their 25 year old release from 53.5%abv to 45.7%abv. I've tried the 50.7% and 48.1% bottlings on a few occasions, and always liked them more than the 30yo. Before I review my sample below, I'd like to encourage anyone who has open bottles of those whiskies to share or split 'em, because they need to be tried by newbies and experienced drinkers alike. The whiskies are not standard sherry bombs.

I think this particular sample of the 48.1% comes from around the 2006-2007 era when the bottle shape changed, and the ABV dropped a couple points.

Some of the blogger's photos are getting as desperate
as Sy Snootles.
Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Age: minimum 25 years old
Bottled: 2006-2007?
Maturation: likely a mix of Oloroso casks
Alcohol by Volume: 48.1%
(from a bottle split)


A nexus of dirty stones, ocean air and mild smoke leads the nose. Beneath that, one may find guava, apricot and yellow peaches. Beneath that are hints of toffee pudding and damp basements.

The bold palate has the nose's mix of stones, smoke and salt, while also taking on dunnage and musty casks (with minimal tannins). Smoked chipotles gradually turn into fresh Serranos. It also has a dragonfruit note, which I'm only referencing because I ate a dragonfruit this week. There's a good balance of mild bitterness and mild sweetness throughout.

Tart fruits roll forward in the finish joining with chile oils, making it quite zesty. Hints of dunnage and Oloroso here and there. Sweet oranges appear after the final sips.


These 25+ year old sherry cask Highland Parks I've reviewed are all excellent, and any one of them could top the others depending on the mood or environment, so I'm just parsing minutiae at this point. In regards to this official 25yo Highland Park, I'm in agreement with My Annoying Opinions, Whiskyfun and Whiskynotes, the lively whisky packs a wallop into every sip. Any moneyed individual looking for Smooth will make whiskyfaces when trying this. Kudos to HP (15 years ago) for offering a fighter at this age range.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - €350-€450
Rating - 90