Lagavulin 12yo, 55.1% – Diageo Premium Release 2013

Diageo releases their annual premium releases in Autumn. Sometimes, however, something goes wrong and it takes a lot longer for those releases to pop up in the Dutch stores. This was the case in 2013, which is why this whisky was in De Whiskykoning‘s ‘ Best of 2014′ tasting.

I’ve always been a fan of the Lagavulin 12 that is in their annual releases every year. Mostly because with the Caol Ila they’re the only two affordable drams in the set. Also because, well, it’s Lagavulin. I love Lagavulin. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad one.

The annual 12 year old is made up of bourbon casks, which is something you don’t see often in official Lagavulins. Mostly they’re at least slightly sherried, with the Distiller’s Edition (the other annual release, albeit less premium) being quite thickly sherried.

Sniff:
The nose is quite light but really sharp. It seems there’s just bite and not much bark, but that changes. After a little bit of air it gives you scents of straw, peat and smoke. Malt, grain and bread. A touch of vanilla too. Simple, but very well done.

Sip:
The palate is much more gentle on the arrival than the nose was. It does build up a bit if you let it swim (that’s the alcohol eating you, mind!). Some green tea, peat and oak. Then straw and heather but the light bitterness gets sweeter with more hints of vanilla after a few seconds.

Swallow:
Another smack in the face. It’s a blast of oak and peat and smoke, with some sweetness from the malt and barley sugars. It’s long and sweet.

Since this whisky was in the ‘best of 2014′ tasting, we all had high expectations. It’s funny how such a thing goes because everybody was slightly disappointed. At first. This one needs a little bit of time to show all it can do. After a minute or two the general consensus started it’s slow 180 degree turn.

The final result was that everybody loved this dram, even the guys who proclaimed generally not liking peated drams. Even though it’s strong and fierce. It’s not a complex whisky but what it does it does very, very well.

In short, I really love this whisky and I’m very glad I got myself a bottle last year. Especially since I traded it for another one that I didn’t necessarily want to keep. Some Adelphi Ardbeg I bought when I still liked young Ardbeg.

Lucky for all of you who haven’t bought this one yet, it’s still available at both Whiskykoning (€ 115 / £ 82) and The Whisky Exchange (£ 99.95 / € 140).

Lagavulin 12, Diageo Premium Releases 2013, 13th release, 55.1%

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Port Ellen 1979-2010, 30 years old, 51.9% – Mackillop’s Choice

I don’t get to taste Port Ellen all that much, which was slightly different a couple of years ago. This is mostly because of the rather ridiculous price tag that comes with every bottle.

Ever since Diageo started increasing the prices of Port Ellen some 7 years ago (before that, the newest annual release was some € 200) the independent bottlers have followed suit, unfortunately.

I had a couple of bottles from yonder year of which I finished the last one last year. Since then, all of my Port Ellens were gone and I don’t expect to buy more. Ever. Unless I happen to find some backwater bottle-shop that has some forgotten bottles gathering dust somewhere.

I traded this sample with Ruud L. Luckily I had some stuff he was interested in, so I could finally taste some Port Ellen again. A random bottler that I don’t cross paths with often. Generally I am a bit wary of these bottlings since Port Ellen isn’t a guarantee of awesomeness as some claim it to be.

Sniff:
The nose is soft and gentle with lots of oak. The typical shammy leather of Port Ellen is here too, with a light saltiness. Moss and heather with charcoal. Suede, and cow skin, lemon crumble pie and wet, mossy tree bark.

Sip:
The palate starts of gentle but it does build some strength after a couple of seconds. Straw, syrupy sweetness with leather, dried lemon and oak. Smoke, heather and salt. Warming, but also a hint of sea weed, with a dry mineral undertone.

Swallow:
The finish is, again, slightly salty and very old fashioned. And old. Shammy leather, smoke, heather, peat with crumble pastry and a hint of custard. Oak. It’s quite long too.

It all Port Ellens were this good, I’d be happy to save a couple of months for a bottle. Unfortunately, even these lesser known bottlers charge hundreds of euros for any Port Ellen, and this currently goes for about € 700, if Whiskybase has its facts straight.

This is an awesome dram. It shows exactly why Port Ellen is such a great whisky, with lots of old fashioned depth and flavors, without being too gentle. It’s got it all. The combination of flavors is absolutely great and especially the ‘old’ factor has been bottled successfully. By that I mean you don’t only get an aged whisky, but also a whisky in a style that’s no longer made. Old Caol Ila can have that too, and all those Islay distileries that have somehow changed their procedures.

Again, this is one awesome dram. If you can get a sample somewhere, do so.

Port Ellen 1979-2010, 30 years old, 51.9%, bourbon cask 5585, Mackillop’s Choice. Available from Whiskysite for € 700

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BenRiach 25, 50%

A while ago there was a combination deal on the two regularly available BenRiach 25s, the normal one and the peated one. Of course, that was cause enough for a bottle-share. With me it always takes a while before everything is shipped, but now all of them are underway, or at their destination (except one).

Regular readers of this blog might have picked up on the fact that I generally really like BenRiach, especially since my wife and I visited the distillery in 2013 on our holiday. We got an awesome tour with a pretty kick-ass tasting in the warehouse afterwards. Some really good drams were had (and sampled since I had to drive).

Their 25 year old is normally available, but the pricing is quite varied. Whiskybase has prices varying from € 160 to € 220, and I bet there’s shops with higher price tags. Compared to other official 25 year olds I find € 160 pretty good value for money, especially at the increased ABV of 50%.

Image from Whiskybase

Image from Whiskybase

Sniff:
The nose is slightly spicy with wood spices and tobacco. Crusty bread, rye bread but also a layer of fruits. Even though it’s not the peated whisky, I do get the idea of a wee bit of peat in this dram.

Sip:
The palate is slightly peppery and therefore a tad sharp. Spices, bread crust again. It does get a bit sweeter and more malty.

Swallow:
The finish is dry with wood spices again, cinnamon mostly. Long, spiced biscuits (speculaas) and oak.

This is not the most complex 25 year old whisky I’ve ever had, but it sure is tasty. I think, compared to a lot of others this might be the best regular OB from BenRiach distillery. Their 16 and 20 year olds are not very good in my opinion but this one has an added layer of richness and focuses heavily on subtle oak influences. From spices, to oak and a tad of fruit on the nose.

I really enjoy this whisky, and I think a sub-200-euro price tag is right for this one. I wouldn’t go overboard and spend more than 200 bucks on this since I think you can get a better dram for that money. Or at least, I like to think we live in a world where this is possible.

BenRiach 25, 50%. Generally available, with highly varying prices.

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Glengoyne 25, 48%

It seems Glengoyne has finally joined the ranks of distillers that bottle some of their product at 48%. As far as I remember they always did everything either at cask strength or at 43%. 48% is better. At least I think so, especially when the decision to go to 43% would also involve chill filtration.

Anyway, this Glengoyne 25 year old was released last year and got rave reviews. It seemed everybody liked it despite it’s rather hefty price tag. A bottle of this will cost you north of € 250, with only a German shop keeping it closer to € 250 than € 300. In short, this is an expensive bottle.

I finally got to try it at De Whiskykoning‘s favorites tasting. I went there two weeks ago already and got to try his favorite drams of 2014, and this was part of the line-up. I already know the Glengoyne 21 year old. My father in law has the current edition and I went through a bottle of my own a few years ago. I know that one is good but on the verge of being over-sherried.

Image from Whiskybase

Image from Whiskybase

Sniff:
This definitely is a sherry bomb. It’s more whisky-like than expected though. As in, the sherry doesn’t overpower the whisky as much as I expected. It’s slightly sharp, with raisins, plums, dates, a whiff of alcohol, barley and, somehow, banana crisps (those you can get at Indonesian supermarkets, you know).

Sip:
The palate is dry, again with raisins but also muesli (with all the dried fruits and nuts and all). Some espresso, lots of oak and quite sharp still.

Swallow:
The finish has chocolate and raisins, sherry, oak, some ‘whisky sharpness’. It’s dry, sweet and slightly bitter.

The sharpness I refer to is, I think, created by the added 5% alcohol. The 21 year old has nothing of the sorts and is closer to being overpowered by the sherry than this one. The whisky shines a bit more in the older version. I like that.

Apart from that, all the usual suspects are here with sherry, oak and dried fruits making an appearance. I like the slightly bitter notes of espresso and chocolate too, they add a nice layer of depth to an otherwise good, but rather simple dram.

In short, I like it, but I don’t think it’s € 300 good. Especially if for a couple tenners more you can get a bottle of the Balvenie Tun 1509, I always go for that.

Glengoyne 25, 48%, available at De Whiskykoning for € 315

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Glenburgie 1990-2003, 57.9% – Gordon & MacPhail Reserve

It’s a bit strange how I decide to purchase some whiskies. Generally, I buy with a purpose, at least the last couple of years. I want something from a specific distillery, or a specific age. Sometimes after tasting it at an event I buy something I normally wouldn’t.

When I started my whisky hobby about a decade ago I didn’t know anything about brands I liked or disliked. I didn’t know about casks, ages, styles or anything. Back then, I just bought whichever whisky I deemed interesting. Based on how the bottle (and the liquid inside of that bottle) looked.

While I had some doozies that turned me off certain brands, I also had some crackers that I would not purchase blind in my current state of affairs.

With the Usquebaugh Society we like to carpool. When an event is someways away, we try to go there with as full a car as possible. Also, it became an unwritten rule that you bring a sample of whisky for the driver. In April, when we went to our club bottling selection event in Arnhem I picked up SJ in Uitgeest and we went south. He dropped a bottle with a heel of this Glenburgie under the seat.

This is one of those whiskies that I would not normally buy. Glenburgie is completely off my radar. So much so that I don’t even know the style of whisky they produce, apart from the fact that it generally goes into blends. Blendfodder.

But, I like tasting things that I don’t know as much as I like enjoying the bottles I already know. Even if the tasting of a new whisky ends up with me pouring the whisky down the drain, I enjoy the experience.

Image from Whiskybase

Image from Whiskybase

Sniff:
The whisky smells lightly cheesy, but with lots of sherry. Surprisingly light on the oak. Fatty with some Indian curry spices, and waxy. Quite waxy indeed. Some wood spices too.

Sip:
The palate is sherried and waxy. Quite so on both accounts. There’s oak and chili pepper, cracked black pepper. It’s also slightly fruity with a hint of ginger. Quite sharp, fatty and with hints of candles.

Swallow:
The finish is long with lots of sherry and oak, wax, candles. Some banana suddenly and the pepper and wood spices are back too. Toasted oak.

This is a sherried dram. It leaves enough room for the more whisky oriented scents and flavors, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say the distillery character is detectable. Nonetheless it is a rather tasty dram. Quite wintry, with big and heavy flavors.

It’s one of those drams that is incredibly random when you encounter it in the shop, but I can’t imagine anyone regretting buying this. Unless you were going for a bourbon cask or lighter flavors, but then picking a bottle like this is quite stupid.

Glenburgie 1990-2003, 57.9%, Gordon & MacPhail Reserve, Sherry cask 12510.

Thanks to SJ for the sample.

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Lagavulin Friends of the Classic Malts, 48%, 2013 edition

A while ago I reviewed the older ‘FotCM’ edition of Lagavulin and I quite liked that one. It was a twelve year old from fresh sherry casks which made it quite a heavy dram and also rather different from the normal editions.

Normally Lagavulin has their 16 year old, which is a mix of sherry and bourbon casks. The annual 12 year old which are always bourbon casks, and the Distiller’s Edition, which is from PX casks, but is also about sixteen years old.

So, also, normally, I get rather excited when a new and affordable Lagavulin shows up. The 21 year old from a few years ago and last year’s 37 year old I skipped. Both of them were vastly out of my league, at some € 400 and € 2500 respectively. I did get to try that Lagavulin 21, but I wasn’t that enthusiastic about it anyway. At least not compared to the 2007 release of it.

Then this one came along. Somehow Diageo stopped marketing their Friends of the Classic Malts releases. They still do them occasionally, but without much fanfare. There’s been a new Talisker and this Lagavulin, but I didn’t know about them until the fact was done, while with earlier releases they were announced quite some time ahead.

This one then. It’s a NAS whisky, while before they were all with an age statement, except maybe that last Talisker, I don’t know. It’s again bottled at 48%, like the previous release, but this one is ‘triple matured’. That means that they’ve used three different cask types: refill casks, American oak hogsheads and refill European oak. From my perspective, as a cynic, this doesn’t mean anything:

  1. The American oak can also be refilled.
  2. The refill casks aren’t specified.
  3. The European oak is the only one sort of specific.

So, a randomly aged NAS Lagavulin. Let’s see where we stand.

Sniff:
The smoke is heavy and more ‘raw’ than in the regular sixteen year old. Quite heavy with typical Lagavulin flavors of tea, lots of orange and some sherry. It’s quite ashy in the background. The nose is more explicit than the regular Lagavulin release, but less balanced and just slightly out of whack.

Sip:
The surprisingly ashy scent continues on the palate as well, with burnt wood. Tea, smoke, peat, heather are present, and the orange is here too but less pronounced. Quite some sherry influence and rather sharp.

Swallow:
The finish is very dry and coarse. Oak, pepper, ash, heather, smoke and salty. It’s not very long.

It’s a bit of a strange one, this. In a way it’s nice to have a typical Lagavulin that differs from the only steady one in their product line. The sherry influence is nice, and a lot of the other flavors too. However, it’s slightly more one dimensional than the regular one and I think it will get boring rather quickly.

The oak influence is pretty clear and the fierceness does not necessarily help the whisky. It reminds me a bit of Laphroaig Quarter Cask compared to the regular ten year old. It’s nice, but too simple and flat. Having siad that, it’s better than I expected. It’s also better than a lot of NAS whiskies I’ve tried.

Lagavulin Triple Matured, NAS, Friends of the Classic Malt edition, 48%. It’s available from the Green Welly Stop, currently priced at £ 117.

Thanks to TvE for the sample!

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Aultmore 1989, 14 yo, 58.6% – SMWS (73.9, A Dairy Dram)

When I recently started to give away some books I had racked up in the attic and I no longer wanted or needed, a couple whisky buddies were interested in some. They, as whisky buddies do, offered a sample in return (they could’ve gotten them for free, but they’re a nice bunch).

This sample was one of them and I was happy to have it. I don’t review much Aultmore, and this is an oldie at that. Bottled over a decade ago from an era when a sherry cask was really a sherry cask, at significant strength. Sounds like a good plan to try it right away!

Aultmore is a distillery that’s not on my radar. I’ve tried a few over the years and none of them were very good, with a real low being hit with our club bottling a couple of years ago. I really didn’t like that one and I didn’t buy it. Let’s see where this one lands.

Sniff:
A huge hit of leather at the beginning, with old bananas, and sherry. It’s lightly spicy with oak and mint. Quite sharp and some peppery heat. Dried plums, thick sherry and peaches too.

Sip:
The palate has old overripe fruit like those old bananas on the nose. Oak, and dried peach, apricot and plums. Leather, lots and lots of wood. It’s heavy and cloying, and slightly spicy. Very sharp and some other wood spices too.

Swallow:
The finish has leather again and is also a tad mineral like, with some iron, oak, lots of sherry. Quite beefy.

This is a massive dram. It seems like in general the SMWS knows what it’s doing with a lot of highlights and only some deceptions. This one falls in the first category. The sherry is huge but not overpowering the whisky and it’s sharp enough to keep you slightly on edge.

Even for a dram at almost 60% it’s very sharp and hot. There’s quite some hot spiciness with pepper and some other things going on, which combines very well with the dried fruits, sherry and oak. In short, I love this whisky. Not a ’90-pointer’, but surely up in the eighties.

Aultmore 1989, 14 yo, 58.6%, SMWS, 73.9, A Dairy Dram. According to Whiskybase it’s worth about € 75 now.

Thanks to Rowald for the sample!

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