Benromach 10, 43%, 2014 edition

Benromach has never really been on my radar. I have tried some before, but that’s been years. I liked that one, I think, but for some reason I never decided to put any money in their coffers. Even when I drove past the distillery last summer I didn’t stop there. I was on my way to BenRiach. The other ‘Ben’ with all those high profile releases over the last couple of years.

When I got into whisky, it was the period, if I recall correctly, when they started profiling themselves with those Organic releases, in all kinds of casks (up to Sassicaia), and that also didn’t really feel all that appealing.

Then, when I visited DH17 some years ago to pick up a pile of South Pole Shackleton whiskies which I traded and bottle-shared, they had a ‘very affordable’ Benromach 1981. That went on the wishlist, but as most of the bottles there, it slipped into oblivion until it sold out (I think). Still no Benromach.

Maybe even more remarkable, in some 10 bottle-shares there never was one. Maybe because the indie releases are few and far between, and apart from some American whiskeys I never did a bottle-share of OBs.

Then, last Thursday, on Ruben’s excellent WhiskyNotes, a review of this 10 year old baby popped up. As it happened, I was about to put an order in at Master of Malt, to order my father-in-law’s belated birthday present. Some colleagues wanted me to mule some booze into the country (all perfectly legal, mind) and asked for advice. This seemed a smart buy.

Benromach 10

Benromach 10

Heavy, thick, and very old fashioned. Leathery, with some beef stew with lots of bay leaf, and other ‘northern’ spices. Quite some oak, with furniture polish and then some fruit comes through. Again, rather northern. Plums with their stones, stewed apples. Some sherry sweetness with more tropical fruit behind all that. There’s a whiff of smoke too.

A lot richer than I’m used to for 43% and 10 year olds. Some slate, oak, smoke, and leather. That’s the first impression. Then there’s some peppery heat, with a slight bitterness from fruit pith. Plums, dried peaches and dates, but also the stewed apples and raisin stems. Furniture polish and waxed leather coats. Sheep in the rain. Rather earthy too, forest floor in autumn.

The finish gives some more heat at first, white pepper. Then it coats your entire mouth with an earthy richness that makes you want for winter and hearth fires. Maybe not very summery, but very delicious. The fruit and oak come later. Pretty long, regarding this is 10 year old, and 43%.

As Ruben stated, the 1960s style can be confirmed. This not only smells and tastes old fashioned, it also smells a bit like my nan’s house when she was still alive. We sat in the dining room drawing on the insides of rice cartons. The potato chips were left overs from the week before.

This is an utterly delicious and one the best value for money bottlings I’ve ever come across. I absolutely love this stuff. And to think a bottle costs only about € 37! Damn.

I still have some trouble believing the richness and flavours of this. I would expect this stuff to be twice as old and thrice as expensive. I think I’d still would have bought it (this is not a hint, Benromach!).

To be honest, if I read a review like Ruben’s I tend to become skeptical, and that was how I started on this dram. I was expecting a nice whisky, but not more than that. Value for money. In the end, I think the 87 points Ruben awarded are selling it short.

Benromach 10, 2014 edition, 43%, available at most half-decent liquor shops, and about € 37 everywhere. You can get it at Master of Malt for that, and I’ve also seen it in The Netherlands for that.

By the way. I’m in no way paid for this review. I wrote it after I opened the bottle I bought. No samples available either. This one I’m drinking entirely. And probably too fast.

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Rum – Ian Williams

Somewhere on the internet I saw a review of this book, I guess it was about two years ago. Back then I was a little bit into rum, so I thought it would be wise to gather some knowledge on it. Now I’m not saying I’m not into rum anymore, but I just don’t have a clue what’s what and I don’t want to spend money outside my whisky budget on stuff that might not be all that!

Anyway, rum is a spirit from the Caribbean, based on molasses or sugar cane. I think everybody knows that. Most of the crap whisky from India (not the single malts, mind!) is technically rum too, but that’s another story.

Rum - Ian Williams

Rum – Ian Williams

What I do know from the rum tasting I’ve been to in Krommenie, some years ago, is that rum doesn’t really have a big set of rules regarding to what kind of production methods, aging and labeling there has to be. Ages are generally an average, or just a number (Ron Zacapa 23, for example, is made of rums ranging from 6 to 23 years old).

This book doesn’t really go into detail on the production process. Of course, there are some pages spent on it, but it’s never too technical or matter-of-factly, mostly because there are so many variables. What also doesn’t help is that the producing region is split over some 30+ tiny countries.

The history of rum is what this book mostly is about. It tells the tale of the original colonization of the Caribbean, the slave trade that rum allowed to be set up, all the way to all the wars between England and France, the American War for Independence to Prohibition. These chapters start of very interestingly written, with quite a lot of wit in them which makes for an easy read. After about 70 or so pages is does get rather tedious.

I guess this is not entirely fair since I just finished reading “A Renegade History of the United States“, which covers a lot of the same data, but just from another angle. The contents were rather similar, and in both cases there were too many pages spent on this. I got bored.

Luckily, the last 100 pages or so are far more interesting when the chapters get shorter and modern history regarding rum is described. It takes in the last century or so, starting with prohibition, to the Cuban revolution and how a country like Haiti has nothing set up properly except for a hotel and a distillery.

All in all it’s a very interesting read, and if you don’t know much about rum I certainly recommend it, but do keep in mind that so many pages spent on the back and forth in the Spanish Main and all other colonies in the Caribbean does get a bit ‘long’ after a while. It’s a very good read and Ian Williams is a very good writer.

What I also like, by the way, is that he is not shy of giving his opinion, especially on the more contemporary chapters of the book. He doesn’t shy away of talking crap about Bacardi, and the way they lobbied their way into almost every spot of the world, while pushing rum producers (that actually make tasty rum) out.

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Redbreast 12, 40%

Another standard bottling from my own collection. I’m not entirely sure when I bought this, but I think the excuse was that we just moved in to our new house. New is a relative term in this, because it was valid then, about 4.5 years ago.

Redbreast is, like many Irish whiskeys, a product from Irish Distillers in Midleton, the massive plant that also gives us Green Spot, Yellow Spot, all Jameson varieties, Tullamore Dew, Paddy’s, Powers, and probably some others that I am forgetting right now.

It is a big plant. Luckily for Irish whiskey there are some other distilleries being built or have gone into production over the last couple of years. Cooley was a while ago in 1989, but Tullamore Dew is being rebuilt, Dingle, Kilbeggan, and some others I never heard of. (More info here).

Redbreast was one of the few Single Pot Still whiskeys before their revival, together with Green Spot. Ever since the massive increase in interest in whiskey there have been many other releases. Redbreast is a mainstay, and the range has been expanded over the last couple of years to contain also a 15 year old, 21 year old and a 12 year Cask Strength release.

The regular one then:

Red Breast 12, available from Master of Malt

Redbreast 12, available from Master of Malt

It’s sweet and smooth, with hints of sherry, both malted and unmalted barley. A hint of plastic, banana and banana flavour. Some roses too.

The palate is again smooth and sweet. A little more floral than the nose was, but it also has a dusting of crushed black pepper on top of the roses. There’s oak and malt, with a syrupy coating happening too.

The finish is fruity, and has a very ‘Irish’ feel to it. That’s probably that green malt coming back. It’s not too long and that floral note again.

It’s a very easy drinking dram and a nice step up from Irish blended whiskies. I do think this one doesn’t offer you a very in depth journey and many layers to peel back, but in many cases that isn’t what you’re looking for anyway. Straight forward, easy going and pretty delicious nonetheless.

So, a bottle that will do nicely and be finished in due time, but not one that is overly spectacular. I’ve heard about the older versions being much better, but I’ve only had the 12 CS variety. That was pretty tasty too and had a much bigger punch. I wonder what the regular 12 would have tasted like at 46% or so.

But then again: Those in the know, know Redbreast, as WhiskyCast‘s commercial tells me every week.

Redbreast, Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, 40%. About € 50 at Master of Malt

Samples available.

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About being priced out.

Malt Maniac Oliver Klimek wrote a sincere article about him not (being able) to buy much whisky anymore in the current pricing climate. He talks about prices being on the rise, something he has actually shown in a ‘study’ he started many years ago and recently updated.

The result is that with the same budget as a couple of years ago, you can only buy about half (or less) the whisky you used to. This isn’t particularly well represented in his study, since this focuses on bottlings that were available on both points of time. That loosely translates to the single malts of bigger brands.

However, I don’t think anyone will deny it when I state that the price hikes of Original Bottlings are rather comparable to those of Independents. There is a difference, of course: OB bottlings start in a lower price bracket but end way higher, where IB releases usually have a fairly high entry level but don’t rise as much (generally).

While such price rises are fairly normal in a climate where you sell your bottles anyway, I do feel for the long time whisky aficionados. I don’t count myself among them because I’ve only been ‘collecting’  for a decade or so, but those guys that have been gathering obscure bottles since the 80s or 90s will sure feel a little betrayed by the industry they helped set up.

I’m not saying that they built distilleries, but they kept the flame alive when nobody actually cared about single malt whisky, and single cask, cask strength releases were all but unthinkable.

Where my direction with this differs from Mr. Klimek’s is that he’s looking into the so called Malternatives. Other booze that has not risen in price as much but offers the level of ‘interestingness’ as Single Malt whisky, such as rum, gin, cognac and all kinds of other distillates.

I have thought about this too. I like mostly anything that comes from a still and has a certain level of depth, layeredness and flavor. My preferences go to certain rums, calvados, some vodka, some gin, absinthe, you name it. I could even go on about beer for an hour now.

While I do occasionally buy something that doesn’t come from a pot still and is made from barley, wheat, corn or another cereal, I tend to not spend a significant amount there. Why is this? I simply prefer whisky. Or whiskey. And even though I cannot buy nearly as much bottles as I was used to some five years ago (having two incomes and a really cheap house then, an expensive house now, with only 1.6 incomes and a kid with a second one on the way does that), I still prefer to save up for some nice bottle(s) of whisky and go for that. I simply get the most joy out of that. Buying other stuff gives me even less to spend on whisky. Counterproductive, I think.

The biggest drawback is that when I started my whisky hobby I lived really close to De Whiskykoning in Den Bosch, and since he then had 1400 different bottles on the shelves, I had to go there every two weeks or so, for some three years, to buy something. I dived into the deep end and got spoiled for choice, availability and I got used to playing with the big boys.

That, as said, has changed. I still like playing with the big boys, but I am torn between buying some bottles of very good whisky every few months, and saving up for that one big cracker instead. There’s the difference between really good and absolutely stunning. The difference between buying the newest Arran Cask Strength, Clynelish Masterpiece, Benromach 10 and saving up for a 1968 Ben Nevis.

What doesn’t help is that I really enjoy buying whisky. If I go for the really expensive ones I can indulge three, maybe four times per year. If I don’t act out like that but behave slightly more ‘normal’ (my wife’s term for it) I can do that once every month. An argument for the opposite way of doing things is that I have more than enough whisky to last me a decade, if not more, so saving up for that cracker might even be more sensible from a stock level perspective.

Old Crow, bottled in 1970. Pretty kick-ass bourbon.

Old Crow, bottled in 1970. Pretty kick-ass bourbon.

I did try to go with bourbon and rye whiskey for a while though. That was relatively affordable some two to three years ago and you could get really obscure stuff from auctions at low prices. Unfortunately, that has changed too and everybody else has discovered that too. Where I could buy a bottling of Old Crow from 1970 for € 30 some years ago, that is rapidly approaching € 100 now too. Let alone everything that resembles the name ‘Van Winkle‘.

So, in the end, I’m still torn between sides. I love buying whisky and I believe that bottles of around € 75 give you the most value for money if you are picky. Those are more than good enough and you can keep buying interesting stuff in that price bracket for years to come. On the other hand, I also like having truly exceptional whisky and I don’t mind scaling down size-wise a little bit. I should stop buying bottles for half a year and save up some money to spend on better stuff. Quality over quantity and all.

I discuss this very often with Gal, I guess about every week at least. We both keep coming to the same conclusion, as above. But we both like buying bottles too much. We also are more than happy with that great € 50 find that tastes awesome and is so affordable you can buy something again next month. Of course, after a couple of months of doing that we feel like crap since we both can’t afford that great 1982 Clynelish that comes out (or whatever).

So thanks to Oliver for some new perspective and food for thought.

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Tobermory 15yo, 46.3%, Limited Edition 2008

Ah, Tobermory. I have a weird relationship with that distillery. When I went to my first whisky tasting ever, in Den Bosch at Barrique, there was one which I thought absolutely sublime.

I only ended up not buying it since there also was a cask strength Bowmore available that just had to come home. Mostly because the 60% abv. That how I rolled back then.

This turned out to be a bad investment. Mostly because Barrique works with single barrels and you can buy per centiliter in the shop. Their corks are shite so within a week my Bowmore tasted like wet wallpaper.

Anyway, Tobermory. After tasting a terrific one there I bought their old 10 year old. I guess that was about a decade ago. That was a terrible dram. Barely any flavour, very watery. I gave the bottle away after a few glasses. Then, some years later, this 15 year old came out, in a kick-ass box, all fancy looking. I wanted it before I even tasted it. That’s how I rolled about 6 years ago. At least, partially.

I hear they are regularly pretty good nowadays, and I read several enthusiastic reports on single casks from indie bottlers. This one is from themselves, and if this is a benchmark, they’ve picked up a notch or two.

Tobermory 15, available from Master of Malt

Tobermory 15, available from Master of Malt

Big and rich sherry, right from the get-go. Heaps of raisins and dried peaches. A hint of black pepper and sweet malt in the background. Also, if you’re familiar with sherry, oloroso to be more specific, you get slight yeasty, sour note too.

The palate also has the crushed black pepper, but a little bit more so than the nose. There’s barley here too, and the sweetness of the sherry is incredibly rich. Raisins, with a slight bitterness of the stems added. Some oak. All in all, where the nose leaned very heavily on the sherry this goes more towards whisky.

The finish is largely consistent with the palate. The bitterness is bigger, but never surpasses the sweetness of the dried fruits and sherry. It’s really big on sherry, fruit and quite oaky at this point too.

While this one is huge on the sherry, it’s not overpowering at any point. It’s also not sherry with increased ABV, which does happen sometimes with these big, rich drams. This is just a lovely whisky with great fruity influences.

Highly recommended, although I don’t really get the marketing blurb on maturing on the mainland and then back to Mull and so on. I would have to try a separate one that wasn’t matured on the mainland, and a third one that was matured fully on Mull. (That’s a hint, Tobermory!)

Tobermory 15, 46.3%, Gonzalez Byass Oloroso Casks, Limited Edition from 2008. Still pretty easy to get at some € 85

Samples available

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Altore, 40%

About a year and a half ago I blogged about the Altore Moresca Reserve Finish. One of two of a ‘Corsican’ whisky you can more or less just buy on the island. Corsican is between quotation marks because the whisky is distilled in Scotland, and then matured in Corsica, in a selection of their wine barriques.

The Moresca finish and this one are only eight years old, but eight years on Corsica are different from eight years in Scotland, mostly because of the hot summers in the south of France.

I bought this bottle on Friday the 13th of June, 2008. My wife and I got married on the Tuesday before. It was in a small grocery shop near Ajaccio near the camp ground where we had stayed the first night of our honeymoon. I believe it set me back € 23. I knew there was some Corsican whisky to be had, but that’s about as far as my knowledge went.

I think I popped the cork that same night, but I’m not entirely sure about that. I’m also not sure if I had already bought the second one (The Moresca Reserve finish) that same day, or the next. What I do know is that it’s taking me forever to finish this bottle. Not even because it’s bad, but mostly because there’s a lot of better whisky to be had. Even at the same price.

Altore whisky

Altore whisky

There’s some malt on the nose, with oak and an unexpected richness. Some minor hints of fruit. Stewed apples mostly. The sweetness (of which there is a lot) is reminiscent of Moscatel/Muscat wines.

It’s very smooth, velvety almost. Also very, very sweet and oily like simple syrup. Some malty flavours in the background, porridge like, with a hint of white pepper. Rather rich, especially for a 40% ABV one. There’s apples too and I think I’m getting the faintest whiff of smoke.

The finish is rather long with more fruit than on the palate. Sweet malt, sweet oak and heavy fruit. Very syrupy and rich.

If you’re into sweet and smooth without a lot of difficult flavours, this one is for you. The closest Scottish whisky I think I’ve had is Aberfeldy. It does taste a lot older than 8 years, but there’s not much depth to be discovered. Actually, I keep being surprised by how good this actually tastes.

It’s funny, though, that something that you actually like it sitting on a shelf for six years and a bit before getting close to being finished. I think I might just make it a goal to finish this next weekend. There isn’t much left in the bottle, but if you’re game, there are some samples available.

Altore 40%, available here for € 31

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Campbeltown Loch 30, 40%

Several years ago I bought this bottle after tasting it and mistaking it for a single malt. I’d like to say I’ve come a long way since then, but I guess that’s just wishful thinking. In this case I feel less like an idiot since this is a rather ‘malty’ blend. By that I mean there’s, I think, quite a lot of malt whisky in this blend, compared to its well known siblings from the blends stable.

Campbeltown Loch is a blended whisky produced by J&A Mitchell so it’s safe to say/guess there’s a lot of the Springbank malts in here. Apart from that, little is known and no information is given. The back label just has a barcode, some mandatory icons and the logo that’s also on the front. No info whatsoever.

Apart from that, when this came out it was a steal. I bought it in The Netherlands at a slightly inflated price of some € 75, while it would have been available from closer to € 60 online, by the looks of it. Even then, a 30 year old blend at any of those prices is a steal.

I just checked Whiskybase for current availability, and you still can get this, but its popularity hasn’t gone unnoticed. Only has it, at £ 175 a pop. What I just realized is that in the current market, 175 quid for a 30 year old blended whisky isn’t even that bad a deal, right?

Campbeltown Loch 30yo

Campbeltown Loch 30yo

Very malty and not too heavy at all. There’s quite a lot of salty scents present, hence my guess for Springbank. There’s sugar and vanilla, and some apple and pear. Not too complex but superb balance and smoothness.

Gentle and mature with vanilla, ripe pear and salt. Slightly drying and light, with the tiniest hint of pepper. There’s a tiny layer of smoke behind all this with oak and cinnamon. Quite a lot of oak, but not too heavy.

The finish is very similar to the palate but not overly long. Rich and smooth.

By the tasting notes you can get the idea that this is not an overly complex and layered whisky. That is true. It’s rather straight forward but the three decades in oak worked very well for all parts and make for a great sipping whisky. Highly recommended, but a little expensive at £ 175.

Campbeltown Loch 30, 40%, at £ 175

Samples available

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