Ben Nevis 24, 1996-2021, Hogshead 1535, 51.5% – Single Malts of Scotland for Royal Mile Whiskies

Ooooooh! 1996 Ben Nevis!

Image from Whiskybase

Yeah, it’s one of those reviews where you see a good distillery, with a good vintage, from a good bottler. You know you’re in for a treat. Then again, that raises the bar at the same time, so us geeks tend to be more critical in such cases. At least, that’s my experience.

Ben Nevis is one of those distilleries that is high on my list for a visit, tour and tasting. But for some reason it has never fit the schedule, and therefore I have only driven past in on several occasions. I just happened to never stay in or near Fort William.

So, until then we just appease our curiosity by trying to drink some of their more incredible vintages. Like 1996. But, even their regular 10 year old is out of this world. Interestingly, we might add, because when I started drinking whisky little under 20 years ago, Ben Nevis was not seen as a very good distillery indeed. Most of their bottlings were only so-so, independent casks existed but weren’t overly popular too. It’s strange how things rapidly can change!

This one then!

Sniff:
Yellow fruit galore! A complete fruit salad, the canned kind, in a trifle. So some boozy sponge cake too. There are quite some dry spices too, but not the heavy, baking spices. Dried ginger powder, unripe banana peels, peardrops, ‘Napoleon’.

Sip:
The palate is slightly woody with dried ginger again. Dry spices, white pepper, oak shavings. Napoleon and peardrops. The sweetness that I expected on the nose is nowhere to be found. Dried coconut and a bit of beeswax.

Swallow:
The finish is still bone dry and keeps the white pepper and dried ginger, and lots of yellow fruit. Apples, Napoleon, dried coconut.

This is a glorious whisky indeed. It does everything you hope a 1996 Ben Nevis does. Lots of fruitiness, but not too much sweetness, a properly matured whisky. I love that the ABV is slightly lower as well, so all the fruity flavors aren’t overpowered by too much alcohol heat. Great stuff!

90/100

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Glencadam 1990-2011, 56.6% – Berry Bros & Rudd

Glencadam is, to me at least, one of those distilleries that you’ve tried every now and then, but have never really focused on in one way or another. As in, years ago I tried their official 15 year old and loved it. But after the tasting where I had, I completely forgot about the brand.

When it pops up in newsletters it doesn’t ‘spark joy’ immediately. Mostly because I don’t really have any expectation of the whisky. It could go either way. It could be very spirity or very cask driven. It could be harsh or it could be rather gentle. Many layers of flavor to be peeled back? Who knows?

So, when MZ was selling a sizeable chunk of his collection a year or two ago, and I saw this one in the list, I decided to get my hands on a bottle. It was in the middle of lockdowns, so I could immediately sell a part of it in the ‘Stay the Fuck at Home’ tastings I was hosting.

Image from Whiskybase

Interestingly, now I check the Whiskybase page I see the reviews being all over the place. Some friends of mine score it 86 or 87, but also 82 and 83. Of course, on a hundred point scale that is not the biggest difference, but if we keep in mind that 95-ish% of whisky falls in the 80-89 range, that is very significant.

Sniff:
If you consider that single malt whisky is made from barley, and matured in oak, then this one does just that. There is a lot of barley and oak on the nose, and a lot of straw (so, barley stalks) too. But that’s it.

Sip:
The palate continues much down the same line, but there’s a bit more sweetness to it. Lots of barley and straw, a rather hot oaky dryness too. There’s a bit of pastry flavor to it, puff pastry I’d say, with almond shavings.

Swallow:
The finish is quite long and warming. The puff pastry note continues, as do the barley notes.

The strange thing is that there is almost nothing to discover, or at least I didn’t find it. However, the focus on barley and oak isn’t necessarily bad. It’s very pure and clean, but it lacks in depth and complexity.

According to Whiskybase this one now should go for little under € 200, and that is way too much for a whisky like this.

83/100

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Ardmore 21, 1998-2019, Bourbon Hogshead 750802, 51.7% – A.D. Rattray

Image from Whiskybase

I guess I must admit, at least to myself, that I am an Ardmore fan. Over the last couple of years, I’ve gone through quite a few bottles and even when I don’t buy anything for a little while I have a hard time holding back when a new independent release comes by.

The lightly peated Highland whisky just ticks my boxes. It tends to have a dry and malty character, with a bit of smoke. I like that it’s the heathery non-Islay smoke too. Unfortunately, I’ve never visited the place yet, but I guess that is something that can be remedied at some point in time.

So, a sample of this came by somewhere. I don’t remember where since it has been some time since I tried it, and even longer since I got it. However, it’s likely that someone from my bottle sharing club had it available a year or two ago.

Sniff:
Light on the nose, with some ashy scents. A light aroma of barley, some coastal salinity, and a hint of vanilla. An earthy smokiness, but not too intense.

Sip:
The palate is quite hot with white pepper and chilli pepper. A lot of light flavors of oak, barley, smoke, marram grass, dry soil, peat, straw.

Swallow:
The finish is a tad richer with some note of vanilla that wasn’t there before. The heat is toned down, but otherwise the finish shows the same notes as the palate did.

It’s interesting that barley seems to lose some richness when it gets smoked. At least, when Ardmore or distilleries like Highland Park are concerned. Having said that, I do like that far dryer character that is achieved by that.

This one is a fairly classic Ardmore, although the palate was surprisingly hot for the ABV and the age of the whisky. That does hold it down in regard to my rating, but it’s still quite nice.

87/100

Still available in Italy for about € 130

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Blair Athol 13, bottled 2022, 56.2% – Hand filled at the distillery

A friend of mine gave me a sample of this a little while ago. Last year he visited the distillery on a family holiday to Scotland, if I recall correctly. This cask was available and although it officially doesn’t have too much information on it, except age and ABV, according to people at the distillery the cask used to contain red wine before it was used at this southern Highland distillery.

Generally, this is kind of a no-go for me, but something about a gift horse. Also, with him having tasted a couple of thousand of whiskies, and stating it is quite good, I’m willing to go into the unknown.

Image from Whiskybase

Sniff:
A very rich and heavy nose with lots of wet, dark oak. From the get-go it’s clear some grape-alcohol hold sway here. Initially I was in doubt between Port and red wine, but it lacks the more earthy, woody notes of port casks. Some dried fruit like raisins and dates. A bit of rancio too.

Sip:
Quite a sharp palate, with far more heat than I expected (I just had a dram at the exact samd ABV and this tastes like it’s 10% stronger). Dark oak, raisins, blue grapes, oak and a touch of soil.

Swallow:
The finish mellows quickly and shows a slight chocolate-like sweetness. Also, there’s clearly more wine on the finish, and it’s a bit lighter than the palate.

According to Whiskybase this used to go for £ 120, which I honestly find quite steep for any 13 year old whisky. I am not sure whether it was available to try before you buy at the distillery, but I doubt I would have gone for a 13 year old wine cask whisky at this price. However, after having tried it, it is quite a good whisky indeed!

I like that it shows the cask quite well, even though it hasn’t completely blown the whisky flavors away either. A well done wine maturation/finish.

87/100

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Royal Lochnagar 30, 1974-2004, 56.2% – Rare Malts

And once again, I managed to find a bridge between one week and the next. This week we’re switching to the Highlands instead of Speyside. We do so through last week’s review of a Benromach from the Rare Malts series, into a Royal Lochnagar in the same labelling.

So, yet another bottling from quite some years ago. This one was bottled in 2004, almost 19 years ago (it was bottled in April). And once again, a 30 year old whisky bottled at 56.2% ABV is quite a high octane dram for the age. Never say the Rare Malts weren’t consistent in that regard!

Image from The Whisky Exchange

Now, I don’t know much about Royal Lochnagar distillery. For some reason it’s one that I never paid much attention to unless someone gave me a sample for whatever reason. Their official bottlings are always bit under the radar, with only a 12 year old being their core range and the occasional special release from Diageo.

Surprisingly, I had another rather old one (from 1973, to be precise) last year, which happened to be the second mention of the distillery on my blog. In 12.5 years… A rare malt indeed.

Sniff:
It smells like the alcoholic version of a distillery’s mill room. Lots of dusty barley and cast iron. A tad minerally, and a hint of old bottle effect. Rather crisp, all in all.

Sip:
A fairly gentle arrival, but with a bit of a crisp bite. Green apples, iron filings, lots of dry grist and barley stores. There’s a bit of oak too, as well as a white peppery heat.

Swallow:
The finish shows a little bit more of the OBE. Although it’s pretty intense, most flavors are quite light. Apples, grapes, iron. Some oak and old, dusty barley.

Much like the other one it focuses heavily on the core ingredients of single malt whisky. There’s oak and barley, and all other notes play second fiddle to those. Surprisingly, this happens without being boring or dull, and makes for quite an interesting whisky with those minor notes really making the experience. Unfortunately, I can’t really compare to modern and younger Lochnagars because I’ve not tried them. So far, the old ones are pretty awesome!

88/100

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Benromach 19, 1978-1998, 63.8% – Rare Malts

This is one of these whiskies that I’ve seen on shelves at shops like The Old Pipe, ages ago. Back then Benromach wasn’t a popular distillery so I didn’t really have it on my radar, but either palates have changed or ‘I’ve grown’, which ever is more likely.

Benromach is now one of the more interesting Speyside distilleries for me. It’s generally known for a rather old fashioned character and a stunning 10 year old ‘entry level whisky’. This Rare Malts is from way before that. From before Gordon & MacPhail reinvented the distillery and the brand, back when Diageo reigned in the Forres distillery.

If anything, the Rare Malts are known for both high quality, and high alcohol, although back then they didn’t instantly sell out. How things have changed!

Image from Whiskybase

Let’s see if this oldie is any good. Reviews on Whiskybase aren’t great, but I try to not let that influence my tasting notes and final ranking.

Sniff:
Decidedly old-fashioned, with Benromach already being an old-fashioned style distillery. Funky, with some yeast, lots of steeped barley and a good helping of oak. Good quality oak, I might add. Some dried mango and apricot, a whiff of tobacco.

Sip:
Another gentle arrival, but this one quickly builds up to some chilli heat. Not too much, though. Some dryness starts coming through, with oak, leather, barley. Flavors of funky dried fruit come through, the too-old stuff. Leathery tobacco leaves, dried mango, papaya and apricot.

Swallow:
The finish goes full on for the ‘old style’ stuff. Much more funky than before with yeasty, overripe fruit and leathery tobacco leaves.

What a dram! If this would have been the regular quality level of what Benromach turned out before they shut down, I really don’t get why that ever happened. It does what Benromach does very well, with a slightly clunky spectrum of scents and flavors. It does work so well, though!

91/100

Currently available for € 700…

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Glen Elgin 12, 1985-1997, 56.4% – SMWS (85.9)

I double checked the label to see whether or not I missed something. There’s no weird nonsensical name on it, which, I thought, was the SMWS’s schtick from the start. Apparently that’s something from later iterations of rebranding.

Anyway, a 12 year old Glen Elgin, from yonder year. I kind of like Glen Elgin when done well. Of course, that goes for every whisky, but with Glen Elgin there can be something quite unique and delicious about it. It’s more of a ‘highland style’ whisky than a lot of other Speysiders, it steers away from sweeter notes and is slightly more foresty and crisp. If done well.

Image from Whiskybase

I’ve also had Glen Elgins that were so thin and flavorless that you almost start thinking it was matured in stainless steel. Anyway, let’s see where this one takes us!

Sniff:
Lots of grassy notes. Green malt, hay, freshly cut grass. Gentle oak and dried herbs. Pear peels, lychee, wild peaches.

Sip:
Quite mature, lots of white pepper and a massive dryness. Crisp apples, pear skins, lychee, wild peach. Some oak and fresh grass.

Swallow:
A very old fashioned finish with white fruit and lots of grassy notes again. Slightly sweet, towards the end.

Initially there were mostly grassy notes. That’s fine but not the style I’m looking for. As in, I like those notes, but not if it is only those. Luckily, there were some light fruits added to the mix as well. And good ones at that! Lots of good flavors happening here with lychees and wild peaches.

Of course, this is a bottle you have to get in auction, it being released 25 years ago and such…

88/100

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Mannochmore 10, 1998-2009, Bodega Sherry European Oak Cask, 59.1% – The Manager’s Choice

These Manager’s Choice whiskies are as hilarious as they are expensive. Back when this series of 27 different bottlings was released by Diageo, they just sat on shelves. At least, most of them. The ones that did sell were the Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Talisker and Clynelish. The Oban did move a little bit too, but the other ones just sat there.

When they came out they were all priced around € 200 and up. For more or less ten year old whisky that was insane. Utterly ridiculous, was the consent, and even when a large Dutch whisky shop priced them down to € 140 it took ages for them to sell out.

Of course, with prices and popularity of whisky ever on the increase, things have since gone up in regards to price, but this Mannochmore is still available in at least 3 different shops in The Netherlands.

Things just weren’t as special as they thought they were, and prices are not just a random guess. Apparently, there is a maximum that even whisky fanatics are willing to part with.

I got a sample of this one last week from SJ. I’m not entirely sure when he bought this, but I bet it’s been ages. I’m also not entirely sure to why he initially bought this, but the way it was presented showed me it was more of a gimmick at some point than anything else.

Image from The Whisky Exchange

Sniff:
Lots of sherry, right away. Lots of sweet dried fruits in a very PX-y way. Dates, figs, peaches and a whiff of orange. Not much distillery character to be found, or is that typical of Mannochmore?

Sip:
The palate is surprisingly dry, and arrives quite gently. After 20 or so seconds it starts intensifying very quickly, though. Dark dried fruits, oak, chocolate oranges, raisins.

Swallow:
The finish really shows a lot of sherry. Some warmth of the high ABV lingers, but it could just as well be amped up PX.

Apart from the sherry cask, not a lot is happening. Of course, Mannochmore is usually used in blended whiskies and therefore isn’t normally the most characterful of malts, but this is on another level of ‘cask driven’. Having said that, it is a rather tasty drink, with lots of lovely dried fruit, and other sherry notes. It’s just that it tastes more like amped up sherry than whisky.

85/100

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Glenburgie 27, 1995-2022, Hogshead 6668, 57.7% – Signatory Vintage for Wu Dram Clan

The last of the three bottlings for Wu Dram Clan’s third anniversary. I wonder whether they picked three because there’s three of them, or because they’re three years old. If it’s the latter, we’re in for some interesting follow up anniversaries!

Anyway, Glenburgie 1995, which is a pretty awesome vintage for the already popular Speyside distillery. They tend to be gentle and fruity with lots of lighter fruity notes in the bourbon cask matured ones. This one, even though it’s 27 years old, is still at 57.7% ABV, which is quite a lot for such an age.

Let’s just find out and dive in!

Image from Whiskybase

Sniff:
The nose has, right after pouring the sample, a surprisingly light combination of orchard fruits and a chemical scent. A bit like nail polish remover, or maybe some glue. The chemical notes dissipate quickly and give way to straw and barley. It’s almost like old St. Magdalene or some Rosebank whiskies, in how lightly fruity and floral it is. Floral as in meadows and slightly green.

Sip:
Dry and slightly sharp with peppery heat (white pepper at that), orchard fruits with apples, white grapes, unripe pears. Behind that rather classical and mature fruitiness there are hints of barley and straw. After a few seconds it becomes a bit more rich with more notes of pastry and baked apples instead of the fresh ones.

Swallow:
The finish is slightly green, but not young at all. Moss and leafy greens. Apples and pears, slight notes of pastry and a whiff of vanilla.

This is a very traditional Glenburgie on one hand, with lovely fruity notes and a not too powerful cask influence. It shows quite a bit of depth and develops nicely in the glass.

What is interesting is that it has some old fashioned lowlands whisky characteristics on top of it. Compared to this one, most Glenburgies I’ve had are slightly more sweet and a bit less floral. The meadow-y scents and flavors give it a bit of a St. Magdalene thing, and that’s very interesting, and quite good on top of that!

89/100

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Caperdonich 22, 2000-2022, Hogshead 29490, 55.2% – Signatory Vintage for Wu Dram Clan

I looked through my tasting notes but I doubt I can do a ‘Closed Distilleries’ theme week now. I guess it will be Speyside then! That’s an easy one with half the Scottish distilleries being there.

This bottling was recently made available by Wu Dram Clan to celebrate their third anniversary. It’s one of three, with the Unnamed Islay from earlier this month as one, and an upcoming Glenburgie as the other counterpart to this Caperdonich.

Caperdonich is a distillery that’s been closed since 2002, and bottlings have recently begun to be increasingly expensive. Honestly, with this clocking in just under € 400 it’s not even that ‘out there’.

Originally also known as Glen Grant II, it’s kind of obvious what the distillery’s purpose was. Things weren’t meant to be after little over a hundred years and the place closed down. After some wheeling and dealing one pair of the stills were sold to The Owl Distillery near Liège in Belgium and have been installed there since 2013. The other pair of still is intended to be installed in the Falkirk Distillery.

Image from Whiskybase

Anyway, the whisky then! Let’s find out!

Sniff:
Quite rich. A combination of lighter notes of dried fruit, and heavier notes of straw and oak. A slight garlic-y note, somehow. I don’t think I ever had that before… Apricot jam, mango chutney. Quite a lot of oak, even for a 22 year old whisky.

Sip:
The palate is a very interesting combination of big oaky notes on one end, and a rather spirity approach on the other. There’s not much in the middle, strangely. Quite a lot of sweetness, of peaches and apricots mostly. A very minor note of minerals and iron.

Swallow:
The finish is back to that spirit again. Lots of newmake notes, this must have been some intense spirit when it came of the still! Apricots, with stone, oak, iron.

Well, to say this is an interesting whisky would be an understatement. Generally I’ve found myself to not be the greatest fan of ‘younger’ Caperdonich, but this one is very good. It’s also really cool to have all these weird combinations of notes. Of richer dried fruit and minerally iron, of lots of oak and a strange note of garlic. Really cool stuff!

88/100

Available in The Netherlands at Passie voor Whisky

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