Lagavulin 25 y.o. (2016) Review

Dear Lord, I miss the days of distillery visits and scooping up distillery exclusive releases. Lagavulin, in particular, has always had cool bottlings only available to those folks who make the journey to Islay. Or, y’know, those savvy enough to watch the auctions and swallow the inflated prices. That’s not my scene, though; I’d rather just make the jaunt when opportunity affords. Fingers and toes crossed for brighter days ahead and open travel.

This limited edition Lagavulin 25 was bottled for the distillery’s bicentenary celebrations in 2016. Unfortunately, I only had a wee sample to work off here. And it was a one-off taste at that, which means little to no opportunity to revisit. For science, I mean, not gluttony. So…my caveat, for the sake of integrity and keeping things on the up and up: the score could maybe shift a point or so in either direction, but I’m pretty comfortable with how I’ve scored it. Make no mistake, this was a brilliant dram.

I imagine most of you are aware that well-aged Lagavulin doesn’t often hit the market. When it does you better be quick and you better have deep pockets. Sadly, I didn’t manage to nab one of these myself, but if an opportunity arises to trade for one, you can bet I will.

So, needless to say, my jet-setting friends, if anyone is making a wee pilgrimage to the land of peat and smoke – and has an extra slot or two in their luggage – please keep me in mind for Lag ‘distillery only’ bottlings.

200th Anniversary release. Sherry casks. 8,000 bottles. 51.7%

Thanks to Danny Fach for the photo.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Oh, so Lagavulin-esque. Coastal and rocking that band-aid-iness to the nines. Ashy and a little boggy. Quintessential Islay saline sea breeze meets beachside bonfire. Orange, leaning more into mandarins. Lemon seared fish skin. And still on the protein, grilled ham. Antiseptic (again, with those hints of bandaids I always pick up on Lagavulin). Cantaloupe (just past ripe) and grilled pineapple. Citrus flavoured Fisherman’s Friend lozenges. Palate: Ashy…sooooo ashy. Dry cacao, just to accentuate (or exacerbate?) that ashy dryness. The heft of peat is actually surprising given the age. A very mild olive oil. Over-toasted coconut. Lime and orange, tangerine and grapefruit (mid-palate to back end). Finish: Malt steps up a bit. Plum. Maybe some apple skins. 92/100

Macallan The Harmony Collection: Rich Cacao Review

Ah, Macallan. I just want to ask…why?

Oh, yeah. The money.

How ’bout we just move on to some notes. This feels lazy, but it’s just really unremarkable (though, not, to be clear, flawed) whisky.

Sherry-seasoned European and American Oak. 44% abv.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Very clean, actually. Some typical (and kinda boring, I realize) fruitcake. The kind with the marzipan toupee. Gramma’s raisin butter tarts. Some sort of reduced cherry, stripped of the zip, and a bit muddled. A touch of potting soil. A little orange and vanilla too. Cacao? Hmmm…you sure? Palate: Like sucking on a dead cinnamon stick. Somewhat vinous. A pronounced lack of texture (can something be pronounced and lacking?). Very spice forward. Rum raisin. maybe a bit of marmalade. Brown butter and spiced honey. Kinda boozy. Finish: A fairly dead, innocuous finish. 79/100

Kichoman Feis Ile 2021 Review

Confession: I have never been to Feis Ile (the Islay whisky festival). That probably seems blasphemous to some of you who have hung around here long enough to know my affinity for the isle of Islay and proclivity for anything related. I have actually made a point of avoiding the island at festival time. I’m just not into fighting the crowds and queues, and I’ve discovered that I like being able to eat and sleep without stress. Yeah, yeah, I’m getting old and soft, I know it. But here we are, year C19-2, and I’m really curious to see what happens on the island when the calendar comes ’round to Feis Ile nowadays. Normally, Islay at festival time is like a hive of fury-whipped hornets, crawling all over each other for limited edition festival-only bottles, oversold tastings, and whatever bits of grub can be scrounged from overtaxed pubs and the island’s handful of killer eateries. As you can imagine, the island relies on that annual influx of tourism, so the last couple of years have undoubtedly cramped the financial well-being of more than a few of the Ileachs. Granted, things have opened up a bit now, but so far as I know, the situation is still nowhere near what it should be (and will be again!). And let’s face it, an online festival is no festival at all, fun as it may still be.

So, to commemorate the 2021 virtual Feis Ile, Anthony, Robin et al have released this special edition 8 year old. It’s a bit of a gentle giant, in my opinion, and sits close to what I actually now believe is Kilchoman’s wheelhouse: their Islay Barley range. For me it’s not necessarily about the barley provenance, but about the in-house floor maltings, which weigh in at less than half the peated ppm we’d expect in the more core expressions from Kilchoman. This softening of the phenols allows the sweetness of the distillate to sing just a wee bit louder. And it’s all the better for it.

Thanks to our mate and local agent/rock star Andy Dunn for donating this bottle to a KWM tasting. I was fortunate enough to have a wee nip before the bottle was drained. Lovely dram I hope to revisit at some point.

2 x Oloroso sherry butts (2011) and 6 x bourbon barrels (2012). Optic and Publican barley. 2,832 bottles. 56.3% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: Chlorine. Lemon and lime. Pineapple. Swedish Berries. Orange. Ocean water, clay, and chalk or limestone. A lower level of peat smoke than I’d expected, so yeah…nose absolutely confirms in-house malt? Beautifully sweet and fruity. Cherry Coke Bottles candy. Brisket bark. Palate: Creamy licorice notes. Smoke. Salt. Red and black licorice, if bound up and chewed together. Greengage and gooseberry. Tiger Tiger ice cream. Melon Rind. More of that carry meat. Burnt rosemary. A nice oceanic salinity; almost like using three or four drops of salt water to reduce strength. Finish: Fruit skins. Plum. A hint of mezcal without heavy agave notes. Clean all the way through. 88.5/100

Lindores Abbey Commemorative First Release MCDXCIV Review

Another new Lowlander! Exciting times. And this one with some historic, if not proper pedigree. Whisky lore (and oh, so many tasting events) always mentions ye auld friar John Cor and his VIII bolls of malt, but perhaps Lindores Abbey is the only one going that can actually hang its hat on some legit sort of provenance. In fact, the distillery rests on the site of the old abbey referenced in the earliest written word on the spirit we love. Cool, aye? I think so.

This commemorative first release (at a wee $80ca!) is only a 3 or 4 year old malt, but there’s already some cool stuff going on. We always try to look at these whiskies for what they are, and not simply hold them to an expected generic median scotch whisky flavour profile. In other words, we want to assess the quality of the spirit, speak to execution more than anything, and cast an eye to how we think this may develop through the years. The score (which can usually be ignored in almost any review, IMHO), however, needs to be a bit more objective. Hopefully both reflect truth.

So, at its heart, this one isn’t ripe. There’s no hiding that. I can almost feel my gums hurt like when biting into an underripe pear or something. A few more years are needed here, but are we geeks or aren’t we geeks? Rhetorical; we are. That means we should be excited to try a new distillery and to try the spirit all along its life journey. That, mes amis, is how we really get to know whisky.

I just want to say, I’m not really a fan of the bottle itself, but I suppose it’s just a vessel, aye?

A bit of a wild one, this Lindores Abbey. Spirit-y, but also spirited. This distillery is gonna be a fun one to follow if this release is any indication. I’ll be anxiously watching for more samples or expressions to try now.

A marriage of Bourbon, Sherry and Wine Barrique. 12,750 bottles. 46% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: Young, sweet, and spicy. Pears in spiced syrup, and some darker plummy notes too. Glayva. A fresh package of cinnamon sticks. Some floral notes; peonies, I think. Orange and tangerine. Saltwater taffy. Maltesers or Whoppers. Cream of Wheat with currents. And maybe a squeeze of lemon. Palate: Not wine-y, but…ok, a tick wine-influenced. Not sour and funky, if you know what I mean. Slightly flinty. A build-up of cinnamon and mulling spices. Boozy fruitcake. Ginger. I think the best thing about this one is that it is still mostly distillate-forward, despite the rather vocal casks having a say. Better balance than expected for this age. Finish: Malt, Cinnamon toothpicks. Fennel. Long and woody. 80.5/100

Daftmill 2008 Winter Batch Review

Man, I’m excited to be talking about Daftmill. It’s been a long wait for us whisky folk looking to get our grubby lil paws on the first releases from this somehow-already-cult-distillery. Normally there’d be some pithy remark about how it must have felt even longer for Francis and Ian Cuthbert, the gents behind this coveted new malt and distillery, but something tells me they just don’t really give a flying f*ck. The eye has always been toward quality and the pursuit of a good end product, irrespective of time and, to a degree, finance.

But the proof is in the pudding, as they say. It took twelve long years before the first Daftmill release saw the light of day. Twelve. Francis, the man behind distillation at Daftmill, is knocking out maybe a hundred casks a year. Yeah, you read that right. Production only takes place on the shoulder months of the farm schedule (mid-summer and winter). And therein lies the real beauty in what the Cuthbert’s are doing; a lack of financial obligation to their distilling pursuits. The whole endeavor was almost a vanity project from the get-go. The farm pays the bills, the whisky buys the bells and whistles. I exaggerate, of course, but only slightly.

But before anyone starts thinking we’ve already canonized the Cuthberts, let’s first determine if the malt is miracle enough to warrant the rabid fervour with which Daftmill is being pursued. Either way, though…it’s exciting to have a new Lowlander out there, and spoiler alert: it’s good. Damn good.

Well done, guys. Can’t wait to see what the future brings.

Optic barley. Twenty-three first-fill ex-bourbon barrels. 6,000 bottles. 46% abv.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Cereal. Lemon bars. Confectioner’s sugar. Cinnamon. A hint of Turkish Delight. Orange candy. Cherry cream. Sounding a lot like Rosebank so far, innit? Yeah…not really, though. A bit of cedar/sauna. Somewhat herbaceous – maybe marjoram? Alos, some slightly sour lactic notes. Palate: Toasty and honeyed. A squeeze of pink grapefruit. Lemon meringue pie. But yeah…it’s mostly the grain talking. Good balance of wood and spirit. Sauvignon Blanc on the mid-palate. Finish: Light and clean, yet…slightly alcohol-y. Dries out a bit without bittering. Leaves a bit of lemon sorbet. Lemons all the way through. 87.5/100

Highland Park Cask Strength Release No. 2 Review

I remember falling hard for Highland Park years ago. One of my best mates was the brand ambassador at the time I was courting HP (or maybe it was courting me?), and I vividly recall attending events he hosted and feeling like there was something kinda special about this distillery. Between his ability to evocatively express what I was picking up in the glass and his profound gift for marrying fact, history, and humor, I was probably the proverbial fish in a barrel. In fact, I know I was.

That doesn’t change the fact that Highland Park was, on the whole, releasing some pretty damn good malts. And quite regularly, at that. I think we can be confident they still have great casks in those storied warehouses, but I’m just not certain where they’re ending up these days. The core HP range is weaker than I can ever remember it being, the branding is a constant source of mockery for many folks (come on, guys, the Viking thing is played out), and the higher age statement releases have been stratospherically positioned, ergo pricing out many of the old vanguard. I hate to say it, but when it comes to Highland Park, there’s not a lot to be excited about these days. So this should be better, aye?

Well, not exactly. I can’t lie though, I’m surprised it took ’em this long to release a young cask strength expression.

Now…rumour* has it that this is 12-13 years old. Ummm…if you say so. It sure doesn’t drink like a dozen years. Is there 12 year old in it? Maybe. But this is no rounded and balanced dram. Blind, I’d guess more like 7 or 8. Probably to some folks’ liking, but I’ll pass on anything but a free dram.

Release No. 2. Sherry seasoned European & American oak casks. 63.9% abv

*Rumour = Whiskybase commentary

Tasting Notes

Nose: Mediocre, youthful, Highland Park. A fair few off notes, that do sort of softemn with a bit of time. Overripe fruits. Toasted marshmallow. Sour and maybe a tick puke-y. Heavy, boozy caramel. Palate: Burny, boozy, and the peat profile is slightly…burnt. A bit of decay. Slightly cloying and wine-y. A lot of spice and figgy notes. Not tooooo hot, all things considered. Drinks big, but not blindingly so. But definitely not ‘of age’, in my opinion. I think this is an experiment in hiding youth through active (seasoned?) casks and high abv. Finish: Not a great finish. A lot of time in the glass helps this one a lot, though. 76/100

Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength Batch 013 Review

For the first time, Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength has made its way to Canada. We’ve been kicking and screaming for this stuff for years, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Until now. But before you get excited and start thinking the levee has broken and we’ll soon be aflood in a lake of Leapfrog, think again. The volume of liquid we’re getting here seems to be akin to what you’d trap in a solar still in a Saharan survival situation. But I’m not going to moan on. Instead, I’ll be grateful for having tasted it and to be able to share a few notes that may help someone make an informed dram decision at some point.

I’ve tried a bunch of these batches over the years, though usually carried back from the distillery. If I’m being honest, I never leave Islay without a bottle or two in my bag, and to this day, I’ve not found a batch I didn’t like nor a bottle of it I didn’t mourn when it died. Batch 013 is no exception. Truly an elegant powerhouse. Like watching Shrek execute a pirouette. But in addition to all of the expected hallmarks of this expression, there seems to be a heavier farmyard-y note than usual. And that, friends, is right up my alley. So, yeah…it’s pretty much everything it’s cracked up to be.

Shame on you, Beam Suntory, for not having this here sooner and in greater quantity.

Batch 013. Bottled January 2021. Ex-Bourbon Barrels. 57.9% abv.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Farmyard. Iodine. Goopy tar. Cracked black peppercorns. All sorts o’ meds. Orange peel. A touch of mango as it opens. Lime. And lime candies. Smells a bit sherried, despite the declaration of being all ex-bourbon. Wet, almost rotty, hay. Cigar tobacco. Epoisse (fromage). Coke meets Root Beer meets Dr. Pepper. A bit of ‘stank’ here…in all the right ways. Palate: Rather dry arrival, then wham!…explodes in smoked and spicy juicy fruits. Candied fennel. Surprisingly firm malt behind it. Marmalade and a thread of black cherry. Salted fish. Horehound candy. Burnt pineapple. Finish: Long and stretchy as taffee. Apples soaked in wine (yes, there’s almost a slight wine-iness to the back end). Some sort of dental paste/putty. Finishes a bit dry. Great development. 89/100

Glen Grant 15 y.o. Batch Strength Review

I was recently approached by some of our local representation for Glen Grant. They wanted to send me a bottle of the new Batch Strength 15 year old. The implication is that I’d help share the word. I think you know me by now, I’ve never really warmed to the idea of collecting freebies. That’s not why I do this. But I had an idea. An idea that would allow the good folks who reached out to me (and do note, they were lovely) to get some honest feedback, and also allow a bunch of my mates to try a dram of a malt I know none (or few) had ever tried. And I think…I may continue this idea if more offers come in.

I accepted, with thanks, and shortly thereafter a package arrived with my name on it. First off: Love the branding. The colors pop. I know it’s not very traditional or austere, but it’s got a bit of…gumption.

So…I took the bottle into work a couple weeks back and poured a round of drams for my coworkers. Blind. I repeat, blind. All I asked was that they’d share a few thoughts as they drammed. No one had any info to work with, other than seeing the color in their glass. The rest was all sensory evaluation and rough scoring. We circled up and I began jotting down everyone’s ballpark scores and rough hollered-out tasting notes. I did the exact same thing a couple nights later with the Unkindness Collective guys, as the first dram in an evening of inebriated philosophizing (or something). I’ve bundled up all those collected notes and compiled an aggregate score based on these awesome and uber-cooperative ten individual folks’ input.

Before we get there, however, I just want to take a sec to offer up a thought for the folks at Glen Grant: Tweak this little promo package thingy you send out if you want to continue offering samples to those of us who speak about the whisky industry. The whole package seems a little…out of touch. I don’t understand the two ice cube trays that were included. Nor the logic behind sending out a bottle with Jim Murray’s endorsement stickered to the front label, in light of a rather inflammatory situation that has recently been brought to the public’s eye. Actually, not so recently, and that’s part of the problem. By nature, a bottling like this (especially with a name like “Batch Strength”) is obviously geared toward a slightly more discerning whisky drinker. Yet these two missteps make it suspect that you actually understand your target demographic. Speaking as a very passionate whisky lad: It’s hard to be passionate about a brand that obviously doesn’t hold the same that same passion. Or isn’t projecting it well, anyway. There. That’s my gripe. And that was a lot of passion.

But at the end of the day, we’re here to talk whisky, and Glen Grant in particular. I’m glad I got a try at this one. And if I’m being honest, I didn’t even know it had hit our market. My bad. It’s a decent whisky overall, but nothing that cuts an identifiable profile. I’ll probably have another dram or two, then pass the heel off to a mate. If any of my local friends care to have a go before that happens…drop me a message and I’ll pass off a sample. Whisky is meant to be shared, as the team at Glen Grant generously showed us. Thanks Team GG, on behalf of all who shared from this bottle, and will share from this bottle.

Anyway…here are the gang’s collected notes, shouted out answers, and a few of my own notes. This should give a fairly rounded profile that probably paints a more accurate picture than I could alone.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Ginger. Poached pear. Big ex-bourbon influence. Red berries and cream. Reminds of Auchentoshan Valinch, without the massive orange note. Lightly-toasted almond. Malty. Creamy. Fruity. Peppercorn. Honeyed white fruits. Banana? Fresh. Green apple. Reminds of Glenrothes. Palate: Creamy. Clean. Distillate-driven, as opposed to cask-driven. Doesn’t drink hot. Sweet. Young. Reminds of the Glenlivet Nadurra 16. Warm. Toasted wood. Cereal and grain. Finish: Short. Some others said long. Lime peel. Apple cider. Aggregate Score: 82/100