...where distraction is the main attraction.

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

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Birthday Booze: Highland Park 33 year old 1978

(Highland Park cluster homepage)

Alas, I conclude the hybrid birthday/cluster situation with an official 1978, with an unknown outturn, created for Travel Retail back in 2011. The cask type was not disclosed, but I'll tell you right here: it's sherry. Monday's 1978 was good, but a little weak. I have higher hopes for this one.

Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Age: 33 years old (1978-2011)
Maturation: probably sherry cask(s)
Outturn: ????
Exclusive to: Travel Retail
Alcohol by Volume: 47.8%
(from a bottle split)


Black walnuts, incense, nutmeg and ancient oak fill the nose at the start. Hints of honey and candied pecans float at the periphery. After 30+ minutes, vibrant notes of charred orange peel, kelp and maple sugar arrive. It's reminiscent of old woody (think L'Encantada) Armagnac.

On the palate, it's a black walnut liqueur aged in a bold sherry butt. Layers of wood spice, toasted bitter nuts and sandalwood fill the mid- and foreground. Pipe smoke, grapefruit and Cointreau appear here and there at the edges.

Musty oak, cigars, salt and a hint of grapefruit finish it up.


This is 90% cask, but I like it, especially the nose, which treads close to old sherry cask Yamazaki. Had the palate's background notes of citrus and pipe smoke been louder and the wood quieter, then I'd be trying to figure out how many points higher than 90 the whisky would score. But an old whisky's palate, and especially the finish, often reveal the naked truth about the cask. This whisky's conclusion was good, but limited, a bit shorter than I'd expected. There's still something grand about the whisky, as one can feel its age throughout. But it's starting to get creaky around the joints, as if it were 43 years old.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - over €1000
Rating - 89