Finglassie ‘Lowland Smoke’, bottled in 2021, Marsala cask, 54% – Cooper’s Choice

To close of a short series of undisclosed single malts we’ll try this one. Of course, it’s not really undisclosed, since the subtitle of the whisky says ‘distilled at Inchdairnie Distillery’, but Finglassie is close enough.

Inchdairnie Distillery is a lowlands distillery in Scotland, in the Kingdom of Fife and has been operational since 2016, which means this 2021 release is, at its highest, 5 years old. According to www.scotchwhisky.com the distillery is set up to maximize flavor. I guess they mean that it’s a very technologically advanced distillery, because otherwise a statement like that doesn’t make much sense.

This Finglassie is a heavily peated version of their distillate, and it’s not the only one from Cooper’s Choice. There are two other ones that are also finished in wine casks. One in a Madeira and the other in a Sauternes cask.

Image from Whiskybase

To me, this generally is a bit of a warning sign, since very young whisky from new distilleries should nowadays be able to be rather palatable, like Torabhaig, Raasay, Waterford, Lochlea, Lindores Abbey and so on. For these drams they decided to use casks that impart lots of flavor, and while I might be too cynical about this, I tend to think that that happens to hide the spirit behind.

In short, I would never have bought a bottle of this, but my friend Tom (van Engelen, from the guest posts) did, and sent me a sample.

Sniff:
It mostly smells young, peated and sweet. The marsala is rather noticeable, with lots of grapy sweetness. A straw like smokiness. Blue grapes and jam.

Sip:
Dry with a lot of peppery heat. Some surprisingly oily smokiness, but quite harsh. Sawdust grist. It’s very, very hot. Some wine cask stuff too, but that bit of fruitiness is pushed back by pepper and alcohol.

Swallow:
An oily smoke again, with some lingering dry heat.

Not surprisingly, it tastes like young whisky with a lot of cask influence forced upon it. After having tried this, I literally have no idea what Inchdairnie spirit would taste like at approximately four years old. I do understand a bit more about what four year old whisky from a very active Marsala cask tastes like, but that’s not what I hoped for.

As I expected, I don’t care for it.

78/100

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Wardhead 21, 1997-2018, 54.6% – Càrn Mòr

Which distillery is this, this Wardhead? Well, as most whisky nerds know by now, there are some code names for distilleries that don’t want their name used on labels. Westport is Glenmorangie, Burnside is Balvenie, ‘Secret Orkney’ is Highland Park, and Wardhead is Glenfiddich.

Most of these code names are for blended malts, and in this case that doesn’t mean a blend with multiple significant components, but just one that is teaspooned. And by that the industry means that there is some minuscule addition of another distillery to a single malt that causes it to not be a single malt.

And of course, since there is only a minuscule part of something else, you won’t taste that, and that means that ‘the industry’ can do that or they can’t and just say they did. So, we might as well call this a single malt for all purposes.

Image from Whiskybase

Anyway, this Wardhead was bottled by Càrn Mòr, which was a part of Morrison and Mackay. That company no longer exists with the Mackay family having sold their part to the other. Morrison Whisky has also built a distillery in Aberargie, just south-east of Perth. Not a company to welcome visitors, or produce single malt for releasing as such, nor do they seem to be participating in the community in which they built their distillery (according to a few locals).

But, how’s the whisky? Because that, in the end, is what matters when you have already gotten your mitts on a sample.

Sniff:
The typical fruity notes of Glenfiddich with quite some banana, mushy pear, applesauce. Topped off with a bit of oak and apple crumble, including the vanilla custard.

Sip:
Dry with green plant notes, as well as grass, straw, pastry and fruit. Apples, pears, unripe banana, star fruit. Less sweet than I expected based on the nose. Wood, barley husks.

Swallow:
The finish is very consistent and quite compkex. Well rounded with greener plant notes, as well as fruit and the ‘ingredients’ of the whisky: oak and barley.

Interestingly, the nose didn’t show the plant-like notes that came through on the palate. However, that didn’t make it inconsistent, it just made for some development in the glass. So, how’s the whisky? It’s very good indeed!

I love the gentle fruity notes and it’s not overly sweet, which I consider a lot of Glenfiddich to be. It’s still available, surprisingly, for € 149 in Italy, and that is very well spent money. Highly recommended!

89/100

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Secret Orkney 17, 2004-2022, Butt 13, 49.4% – WhiskyNerds

It’s been a full month since my last post on here, but more on that later. Holidays happened in the meantime, and when I got back home there was a lovely little sample of this Highland Park whisky waiting for me.

These Secret Orkney bottlings, of which there have been quite a lot of over the last couple of years, are always Highland Park. The only other option is Scapa, but the consensus in the entire industry is that none of them are from ‘the other Orkney distillery’. Apart from the fact that Scapa is not selling casks, there seems to be not much of a reason for it, but still.

With one of these Orkney bottlings coming from WhiskyNerds, I am very interested in tasting it, since their quality threshold tends to be rather high. Let’s dive in!

Image from Whiskybase

Sniff:
There is a lot happening on the first nosing. There’s a bit of an austere note with some minerals, flint and straw. But there’s also something slightly sweeter. Something more fruity, more like ripe pears and honey. The typical whiff of heathery smoke is there too.

Sip:
The palate starts with the more sweet notes of honey, some ‘northern’ orchard fruits like apples and pears. There’s some oak and smoke too, with those slightly austere coastal notes of rocks, and a whiff off brine. The ABV is rather toned down and that’s noticeable, it leaves far more room for other flavors than peppery heat to come through, although there is a minor note of white pepper. There’s a rather surprising note of marmalade and orange chocolates too.

Swallow:
The finish continues seemlessly, but does transform after a few seconds to show a little bit more intensity, before mellowing down to show all the honeyed goodness that was promised on the palate. That orange-y note is here too.

This is exactly why I love these secret Orkneys that have been popping up over the last couple of years. Absolutely gorgeous whisky.

There is a lot of complexity, with lots of flavours to be discovered. Sweeter notes, with some austerity. Coastal notes with some orchard fruits. All is good here. The sherry cask is present, but not massively so, which I think is a good thing. It really leaves room for the amazing spirit to sing!

90/100

Interestingly, the bottling is still available. Check Whiskybase for outlets!


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A Campbeltown Vertical of Classics

With anything made by Springbank selling out instantly, Tom thought it right to go through the three classics that they put out. Most of them are reasonably available, with especially the Springbank 10 being in some shops for € 50 and simultaneously going for twice that in auctions.

Anyway, from the regular 2.5 times distilled Springbank, the 3 times distilled Hazelburn to the heavily peated Longrow, let’s dive in!


The old discussion of what are the ground rules for being a “whisky region” has not resurfaced for a while now, at least not in the whisky bubble I live in. The last time my mind was challenged on the subject is when Michael Lord did a provocative tasting during a Maltstock edition many years ago. He argued the case for Dufftown being an individual whisky region. Indeed, with having so many stills, why does Campbeltown get this distinction and equally productive whisky centers like Elgin, Rothes and Craigellachie do not?

The answer, obviously, is to be found in a very distinctive history. Campbeltown used to be the undisputed Whisky Capital of the World where whisky would flow more easily than there is water in the Campbeltown Loch. Those days are long gone, but it is mostly because of Springbank that the legend lives on. With three outspoken “brands” and also a sister distillery under the name of Glengyle, together with the peculiar Glen Scotia distillery, Campbeltown has a firm backbone again. Doing things the old-fashioned way, I think it is safe to say Springbank belongs to two of the best whisky distilleries in the world (the other one being Lagavulin).

At certain times one has to dig into a core range again and this is what I will be doing in this post. I just happened to stumble upon a more than fair prices Springbank 10, then found an equally attractive Longrow Peated and then it was just a matter of common sense to also source the Hazelburn 10. All with the idea to simply enjoy them… and compare them against each other for this blog.


Hazelburn 10 Years Old, 46 % – bottled July 2018

Image from Whiskybase

This single malt is triple distilled from completely unpeated malt, so I expect a light spirit. The Hazelburn origin lies in the year 1997 when it was first produced.

Sniff
Incredibly fresh and drenched in orange fruit aromas like (blood) oranges and tangerines. It is a very clean impression you get, like an early morning on a bright Summer day. The smells mellow after a while in the glass, turning into garden smells and a slightly more varied fruitiness.

Sip
It is indeed very light and extremely silky on the tongue, as one would expect from a triple distilled whisky. It does have an interesting bitter accent of high quality dark chocolate, but it rather complements the fruity and sour flavors. An unshaken balance that integrates all aspects of whisky making; ingredients, distilling and maturing.

Swallow
The fruity exit is surprising since I only expect this from malts well into their 20s. Did someone secretly throw oranges and tangerine in the stills? There are omnipresent in this remarkable whisky.

If you haven’t already you should stock up on this immediately. I have rarely seen a whisky that can pass as an everyday dram and at the same time could keep you busy all night with delightful simplicity. I hadn’t tasted Hazelburn for a long while because of bad experiences (I avoid sherry expressions…) but this “standard” 10 Years Old is all you could wish for from Campbeltown.

90/100



Springbank 10 Years Old, 46 % – bottled September 2020

Image from Whiskybase

The brand name that carries name of the distillery as a flagship. Now, don’t ask me to explain, but this malt is made via an interesting 2.5 distillation regime not unlike Mortlach, Linkwood and Benrinnes (used to) have. It should give the whisky an inspired twist.

Sniff
Amazing how similar this is compared to the lighter Hazelburn. But the oranges and tangerines
are infused with a certain salinity. Just close your eyes and imagine walking the Esplanade around
Campbeltown Loch. There is something else too, a more heavy tone, reminding me of diesel or some
other kind of fuel. A little smoke that is entirely absent in the Hazelburn.

Sip
Very strong and compact to taste, not as mouth covering as the Hazelburn but more punchy. Judging by the colors of the liquid the Springbank roughly matured in the same cask types as Hazelburn. But this whisky has more layers which results in less bitterness and more spices of all kinds. Of course there is the traditional minerals that seems to be the basic DNA of a Springbank distilled whisky.

Swallow
A bit uninspired with a very humble fruit in the distance, the smokey character makes it a little hot but this results in a nice warming afterglow.

The Springbank has a lot more to say and offers the complexity one expects from a high class single malt whisky. In sniffing and sipping the Springbank was on its way to an even higher score, but the finish lacks some elegance of which the Hazelburn has tons. This evens out the score.

90/100


Longrow Peated (NAS), 46 % – bottled February 2020

Image from Whiskybase

Longrow was the name of an old distillery of which the name was first resurrected in 1973 when Springbank started distilling a peated malt via a more traditional 2 times distillation.

Sniff
Where the Hazelburn and Springbank are closely related, with Longrow you could be fooled into believing it did not come from the same distillery. Dark woodland aromas emerge from the glass, pine needles on wet ground, and slightly medicinal tones too, surprisingly. Has this newer expression of Longrow taken a few pages out of the Islay book of creating peated single malt? It does not have the dominant mineral qualities I loved in the age stated Longrow 10 Years Old (at 46 % abv and the 100 proof edition too). The orange fruit is there, but it is firmly buried under the abundance of peat smoke.

Sip
Oh yeah, all the usual suspects that you can find in excellent peated whisky. The mouthfeel is reminiscent of the Springbank but a lot more wood influence and bitterness that is just enough in balance to allow some humble fruity tones to shine through. I was prepared to not like this Longrow because of the absence of an age statement (because why not tell us what we got in the glass?). The quality of the product does however not make you miss the age statement, and I don’t feel I am being robbed when you pay the acceptable price for this bottle.

Swallow
Just like the Springbank I am missing something here that makes a lasting impression. It is all fine and good but the older regular expressions of Longrow used to scare me, and then made me kneel for its supremacy. This is a friendlier sibling it seems. With a lot of different expressions on the market, like the Longrow Red, maybe the intention was to make the regular Peated a little less extreme? In all honesty, I weep for the old orange boxed Longrow 10 Years Old.

Longrow leaves the fireworks for other expressions, it seems. A pity, but still a cracking good whisky with a very interesting signature.

88/100

Conclusion: A Campbeltown whisky out of the Springbank stable is rarely a disappointment and the
standard range I just tasted might well be among the most impressive flagship whiskies out there.


About Tom van Engelen

I’m a writer in a variety of fields and have a soft spot for whisky, mainly malt, mainly from Scotland. In other times I enjoyed a stint as editor-in-chief of one of the first whisky magazines in the world. When not sipping a good glass I like to write some more, read, watch 007 movies or listen Bowie music. I’m engaged to Dasha, I have a sweet daughter and I live somewhere between the big rivers in the middle of The Netherlands.

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Glen Grant 26, 1995-2021, Bourbon Barrel, 50.6% – Whisky Sponge

We all know Whisky Sponge for the fairly hilarious blog posts from a while ago. Hilarious if you are a bit embedded in the whisky world and know who and what all references refer to. It seems to have gone quiet the last year or so, with Whisky Sponge becoming more and more of a job and not just a time-consuming hobby.

Anyway, apart from the tongue-in-cheek complaining about the whisky industry, the April Fools posts are highly recommended for a bit more serious reading:

Image from Whiskybase

Of course, for the last couple of years, since 2019 or so, WhiskySponge has also become an independent bottler of some fine malts and sometimes other things. I’ve not had much experience with Angus’s bottlings, since they tend to sell out instantly, and it’s become quite challenging to get things shipped without having pay another hundred bucks or so to DHL upon arrival.

Luckily, my friend Jason B. Standing gave me a sample of this Glen Grant. From a bourbon cask, nonetheless. Let’s dive in!

Sniff:
Some tropical fruit and a lot of banana. Apple, pear, and vanilla too. A bit of oak, in a sweet way. In the background there’s a slight cardboard-y note.

Sip:
The palate is rather gentle with only a little tell-tale bite of alcohol. If this is over 46%, I’d be surprised. It is still sweet with oak and vanilla. Some baked apples and pears, and banana. Apple crumble? With cinnamon and some raisins.

Swallow:
The finish changes a little bit, and is much more sweet than the palate was. It’s very much on the banana and baked apple route, with vanilla and oak. But, much more sweet than before.

Fresh bourbon doing what fresh bourbon can, but unfortunately it is too sweet for me. A scotch version of Jack Daniel’s?

When I tried it, I didn’t know it was a Glen Grant, nor any of the other specifications. I would have never guessed, since I tend to associate Glen Grant with a bit more complexity than this one shows. Blindly, I would have gone for GlenDronach, since their bourbon cask bottlings tend to be on the sweet side too!

85/100

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Family Silver 19yo, 2001-2021, Oloroso Sherry Cask #4630, 44% – Cooper’s Choice

The label states this is a Blended Malt, but somewhere in my mind I registered this as Glenfarclas. I have no idea where I read or heard that, but there it is.

I guess ‘The Most Famous Distillery in Speyside’ helps in that direction, but that could also mean Macallan or Glenfiddich. Teaspooned, of course, whether that’s true or just something stated to make it illegal to name the distillery on the label, we’ll never know.

Image from Whiskybase

Anyway, a massively sherried Speyside whisky, from a bottler that I find more and more erratic with their releases. A couple of years ago I held them in high regard because of my experience with them, but lately not so much. Leaning heavily on ‘sherry bomb’ and similar things on the labels, and doing weird stuff with their casks (a Islay cask matured, Calvados cask finished Tormore, anyone?).

The color is appealing, though. I try to steer away from these very dark whiskies since they often aren’t as good as I hope them to be, but it still is appealing.

Sniff:
Sherry, with more spices than fruit. Also leather, old and cracked. A whiff of overripe mango and papaya. With a bit more time the baking spices and old oak change into a more tropical fruit approach.

Sip:
The palate is slightly more dry than I expected. Black pepper, sawdust, cinnamon, some cigar leaves. Slightly mulchy too.

Swallow:
The finish shows more of the complexity of the sherry with a bit of a slightly funky sweetness. The finish is quite long and there’s a lovely sherry spicy-and-sweet lingering flavor.

Well, I actually quite like this. There’s more complexity than I expected, and the lower ABV doesn’t make it too thin or anything. Very enjoyable and not ‘only’ modern sherry with a lot of dried fruits.

Current pricing, at € 173 is very high though, too high for this one.

87/100

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Longmorn 22, 1969-1991, 43% – Berry Bros. & Rudd

It might come as no surprise that a sample of such a Longmorn comes from one of the Longmorn brothers. I’ve had it for a while and never really felt like the time was right for drinking it. When something has a score like this on Whiskybase (92.58pt), you want to pick the right moment.

When I finally did drink it, I was having a quite night in with my wife. The kids were in bed, and I had a good book in front of me. Also, I happened to be at one of the most awesome holiday cottages I’ve ever been to, which happened to be in Scotland. The setting sounded about right to me!

Longmorn is one of those old fashioned Speyside distilleries that doesn’t care much about visitors. They’re just producing whisky, right behind the BenRiach distillery. I might be wrong about this, but it also seems that independent releases of the brand are drying up a little bit. Last year saw some 25 (according to Whiskybase), the year before saw a few more. In 2022, as far as statistics go, there has been only one so far. A decade or so ago they were far more available.

Anyway, a very old one, bottled when I was just 10 years old. Surprisingly it’s still available, although the price tag has been slightly influenced by score and age. A bottle of this currently sits in a Belgian shop for a mere € 2400

Image from Whiskybase

Sniff:
Lots of sherry, but not overly sweet. Quite yeasty, with some spicy ‘oloroso’-like notes. Orange, both pulp and pith. A grapeseed bitterness in the background. Dark chocolate too, with a surprising hint of bacon.

Sip:
The palate is rather light and shows the low ABV. It takes a while to get started, but does bring a gently spicy note of chili peppers. Dry sawdust, some baking spices. Dark chocolate with orange zest, and that meaty bacon note.

Swallow:
The finish is truly beautiful and really brings the spicy, yeasty sherry notes. Some coal smoke, baking spices and a whiff of barbecue.

Whisky afficionados like to complain and compare everything to the good old days, before the stuff got popular. While there is something to be said for that, as well as something to be said for drinking the stuff that’s available now and comparing it not to stuff from half a century ago, but to contemporaries, I think whiskies like this show why the complaining happens.

Sherry casks from back in those days are not the same as sherry casks from nowadays. Neither is the whisky itself, with barley varieties, yeast strains and distilling regimes having changed quite a bit in the last few decades.

In this case, the sherry cask shows a true sherry character, with lots of funky and yeasty notes. In combination with the whisky it shows depth, complexity and lots of layers. Holy crap this is good!

93/100

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Royal Lochnagar 28, 1973-2001, 50% – Old Malt Cask

When you have friends who try to celebrate decadence by pruning their whisky collection from anything that they wouldn’t rate at 90 points or higher, some old bottles tend to show up.

I bought a set of bottles of the ‘Weird Whisky Tasting’ I did little over a year ago during lockdown. A tasting filled with whiskies that were getting surprisingly strange rates and reviews on the internet. This one wasn’t part of that batch, but it came with similar preconditions. A 1973 Lochnagar that, at the time, scored some 86 or 87 points? These oldies tend to get higher ratings, and my curiosity got the better of me.

Image from Whiskybase

Since I opened the bottle sometime in early 2021, I slowly went through it, and sold some samples as well. By now it’s empty, and I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. Let find out how much!

Sniff:
A lot of very old-fashioned notes of steeped barley, hessian and dunnage warehouses with earthen floors. Quite some mulchy oak too, but not as dark and old as you might picture. Apple pie and some apple sauce too.

Sip:
The palate brings quite a bit of white pepper, dry oak shavings, sawdust and dry soil. Very old-fashioned with coal dust, oak, barley. Dried apples.

Swallow:
A rather spicy and warming finish. Quite woody, with a focus on the barley. Hessian, cracked leather, apple sauce.

Mostly very old-fashioned, but also quite generic. As in, the different style of distilling (less homogenized distilling regime, more erratic) and less tinkered-with maturation, these are both noticeable. On the other hand, the whisky itself isn’t overly unique.

However, with these recognizable old style whiskies are now few and far between, it is something I appreciate highly!

88/100

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Isle of Jura 14, 1995-2010, Refill Bourbon Barrel 3199, 57.8% – Gordon & MacPhail

Ah, the infamous Isle of Jura distillery. On the island of ‘one’. One road, one town, one way there, one hotel, one distillery, one million deer.

I was there in 2018. We were on the street across from the distillery and didn’t go in. All of us don’t care for Jura’s whiskies, and we had a ferry to Islay to catch. So, we just snapped a picture and went on our merry way.

This bottle did end up in my collection, for a ‘StayTheFuckHome’ tasting during the pandemic, and I had to get through a bit more after that. Of course, not many people bought a sample of this one, since it’s not a great whisky (spoiler…).

Image from Whiskybase

However, is it actually that bad?

Sniff:
It might be ‘because it’s Jura’, but I have the idea I sniff out a rubber band or two in the background. Otherwise it’s pretty straight forward with barley, oak. Some apple sauce and matches too.

Sip:
It takes a while to get going, but the palate is very dry, with sawdust and straw. Hints of apple and now the texture of rubber bands. Notes of barley husks too.

Swallow:
The finish is surprisingly fruity, apples, pears, some strawberry even. A bit short, with mostly dry oaky notes that linger.

Honestly, based on the whiskies of Jura Distillery I’ve had in the past, this one punches above expectations. Currently Jura is having a bit of a surge in popularity based on all the supposedly awesome 30-year-old whiskies coming out from a little before this one was distilled. Unfortunately, I’ve not had any of these yet.

However, this bottle is a bit on the boring side, with there mainly being oak and barley. The rubber band note on the nose doesn’t help it either. But, after all is said and done, it’s a rather drinkable whisky that I didn’t find too offensive at all. I actually quite enjoyed it. Maybe because my expectations were so low?

82/100

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Caol Ila 15, Feis Ile 2022, Refill and Virgin American Oak, 55.2%

Even though I have a sample of this lined up somewhere, Tom van Engelen beat me to it by writing this tasting notes, and sending them to me for publication.


Freak out with Caol Ila Sawdust

The Festival of Malt and Music returned after a two-year hiatus. Feis Ile 2022 picked up the pace rather quickly with all kinds of interesting bottlings. The one thing that has changed is that in the meantime the retarded plan of leaving the EU came to fruition. Brexit makes getting a special bottle of one of your favorites from Islay all the more difficult, if not impossible. Luckily, I did manage to get the Caol Ila Feis Ile 2022 on my desk, for which I am eternally thankful to the one providing it.

So, the whisky enthusiasts on the internet were buzzing about this year’s output from Diageo: both Lagavulin and Caol Ila released expressions finished on Virgin Oak. I have no information on the duration of the finish. All I know is that the Caol Ila started life in refill oak casks and was then transferred to new wood. The Lagavulin I sadly could not taste (yet) but impressions were damaging.

Image from Whiskybase

Let’s see for ourselves if Caol Ila deserves the same roast.

Smell:
First whiff is definitely chalky, like wet pebbles on the beach, which made me check if I took
the right sample and not a Longrow or Springbank. After a few moments a delicate peat influence takes center stage, with in the background a subtle meaty note. Every time I pick up the glass there is a new characteristic to be found. A smoky sweetness reveals itself. The constant development is amazing.

Sip:
Classic Caol Ila with an oily, mouth coating feel on the tongue. But also a raw side that I associate with the virgin oak. Like chewing on the sharp side of a chainsaw, the edges cutting deep. Forget Ziggy Stardust, this is Ziggy Sawdust. All in all it feels like failed integration. The oily liquid and the sawdust influence are in a fight, duality at its best. It makes for a complex and interesting drinking
experience. Caol Ila succeeds in bottling an expression for the more experienced connoisseur. That is what a Feis Ile bottling should be about; to create discussion.

Swallow:
The finish is all on wood but not too overpowering. The pleasant thing is: there is nothing exotic in it. It is clean refill wood Caol Ila, with on top a layer of extra clean new wood Caol Ila. No dirty notes from sherry or other (fortified) wine, and in this way the opposite of the recent WhiskyNerds bottling that was equally ‘dual’ (sherried Caol Ila versus high alcohol).

88/100

It loses some points on the middle part, but the aroma and the powerful finish make for high marks. Original price was 165 pounds which seems justified for quality. Now more than ever it’s important to try before you buy, because the price tag is not based on logic anymore, purely on challenging your boundaries: “Is this what I want to spend on this or that bottle, or not?”


About Tom van Engelen

I’m a writer in a variety of fields and have a soft spot for whisky, mainly malt, mainly from Scotland. In other times I enjoyed a stint as editor-in-chief of one of the first whisky magazines in the world. When not sipping a good glass I like to write some more, read, watch 007 movies or listen Bowie music. I’m engaged to Dasha, I have a sweet daughter and I live somewhere between the big rivers in the middle of The Netherlands.

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