Heaven Hill 2001-2016, Islay Cask Finish, 53.8% – Malts of Scotland

Malts of Scotland have released quite a few Heaven Hills over the last couple of years. I know there was a sherry cask finish, a regular one and this Islay cask finish. I think there also was a port finished one, but I skipped that one. I expected that one to be a bit too sweet for me.

This Islay cask one was a bit of a no brainer for me since I generally like Heaven Hill’s bourbons, I know Malts of Scotland to be a very good bottler, and my bourbon stock was running low.

Also, a 15 year old one is quite an oldie for bourbon, and if you buy an American bottling, this kind of stuff is ridiculously expensive. Somehow, this one went for € 120, which is quite acceptable in the current whisky climate.

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Image from WhiskyBase

Sniff:
Sweet corn at first, and quite a rich nose. Oak and a light trace of smoke. The smoke will probably slip you by if you don’t know you have to look for it. Smooth and slightly drying. Some nuts and some red fruits.

Sip:
Sweet and dry on the palate, and rich. Slightly coarse, but in a good and drying way. The dryness increases with some swimming. Strong, but not sharp. Some earthy peat notes, but almost no smoke.

Swallow:
The finish is rich and dry, with a bit more sharpness than before. Some heat from the alcohol and oak, the latter of which is quite well represented.

As expected with an older bourbon, the oak is quite ‘present’. To say the least. This is not something I dislike, but it might not be for everyone. The smoky influence of the Islay cask has been very gently applied. It is noticeable, but you have to know what to look for. If you think it’s a regular bourbon, you’ll miss it.

So, not an overly complex bourbon, with a very, very gentle smoky influence. Still, quite a tasty dram and if you want to try an older bourbon, this is an acceptably priced one. Not really cheap though.

86/100

Heaven Hill 2001-2016, 15yo, Islay Cask Finish, 53.8%, Malts of Scotland. Available from Van Zuylen for € 120

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Bowmore 16, 1998-2015, ‘Seaside Smoke’, 55.9% – SMWS

The previous review of an SMWS whisky was that weird Glen Moray from a gin cask. I didn’t really care for that one. Let’s try and see if this Bowmore from a regular bourbon cask suits me better.

As with Glen Moray, the SMWS normally bottles stunning Bowmore. This made me quite interested in a sample of this one, and as with yesterday’s Caol Ila, I brought it on the train with me as a warm up for the Winter Whisky Tasting at De Whiskykoning.

I have to admit that, with the exception of bottlings from the 1980s, Bowmore is one of my favorite distilleries. They have done some wine cask experiments that I don’t really care for, but generally they’re an all-round Islay distillery. Regular bourbon and sherry matured whiskies work well, and they’re also able to do those drams in overdrive like the Devil’s Casks.

Luckily, their dirtier side is coming back with some bottlings from the nineties. Let’s see where this one sits.

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Image from BensWhisky.com

Sniff:
The smoke is very gentle, but clearly present. After that there’s a lot of ripe fruit and a nice, not-too-heavy sweetness. Apple, grapes, passionfruit. A light acidity that makes this a rather crisp dram. Some icing sugar as well. Wow!

Sip:
The palate is quite sharp, which isn’t quite surprising at almost 56% ABV. Lots of flavors of candied fruit, with dried passionfruit and the acidity that goes with that. Mango, pineapple. A light smokiness again.

Swallow:
On the finish the light smoke, a hint of alcohol and fruit go a little bit more towards the perfumy bottlings of the 1980s, but nowhere near as full frontal as those (thank god). Some hints of oak too.

Well, this one just ticks all the boxes, doesn’t it? There’s fruit, smoke, oak. It’s complex and not too strong on the palate. A really good whisky if you ask me. Especially the slightly acidic fruitiness is what Bowmore does very well, and this bottling fits that bill. I don’t often get passionfruit notes from a whisky, but when I do I am a happy camper (generally).

This one has it all, in my book. If it had a bit of that farmy notes that Bowmores sometimes have, this would have gone overboard. But still, if you see a bottle of this somewhere, I highly recommend it!

89/100

Bowmore 16, 1998-2015, Refill Ex-bourbon hogshead, 55.9%, SMWS 3.241 ‘Seaside Smoke’

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Caol Ila 25, 1991-2016, 50.2% – Cadenhead’s Authentic Collection

A while ago I took the train to Den Bosch for a whisky tasting there, and with the other two guys I was on that train we decided to have a dram underway. This was interesting since it was rush hour and it was properly crammed. Luckily we could get on the train before it got really crowded and we could sit.

I brought this 25 year old Caol Ila from Cadenhead’s of which I picked up a sample in the months before then. About two centiliters were held back for reviewing from home, which is what I did during another part of the weekend.

Caol Ila is in a bit of a strange spot at the moment. Their older bottlings are awesome, especially when from the eighties. The official 25 year old is quite bland for such an old whisky from such an interesting distillery. Luckily, regarding those much older whiskies, Caol Ila is a relatively affordable whisky to buy. Compared to many other distillery’s outputs, the 198x bottlings go for a lot less than, let’s say, Bowmore.

 

Sniff:
There’s a really thick, heavy smoke on the nose. But also some oily, creamy scents like olive oil and whipped cream. A bit of engine grease comes after, as well as a bit of a machine-like, diesel-y smoke. Straw and hay with some herbs. White grapes and rotten leaves.

 

Sip:
At first the whisky is quite smooth. It sharpens quickly with hints of oak and spices. Also quite dry and light with notes of barley and smoke. White grapes, rotten leaves and forest soil.

Swallow:
The finish is a bit more default for Caol Ila with some oak, smoke and that oily/creamy thing happening again. Quite long and dry.

Strangely, I did not like this whisky. While all the markers are there to make for a great dram, not unlike the Caol Ila that ended the ‘winter tasting’ in Den Bosch that night, with the Mezcal like smokiness. However, in this case the kind of oiliness, and the kind of creaminess just didn’t work for me.

Also, there are so many flavors in this dram that it started to feel a bit cluttered. A bit inconsistent. The crisp fruitiness with the heavy forest soil, for example. It just didn’t work.

So, while the tasting notes would make me want this dram, the general feel I have after drinking it says I don’t.

83/100

Caol Ila 25, 1991-2016, Bourbon Hogshead, 50.2%, Cadenhead’s Authentic Collection

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Glen Moray 13, ‘The Dunnage Bakehouse’, ex-gin cask, 58.3% – SMWS

A while ago, on ‘The Spirits Business’ there was an announcement for a bottling by the SMWS that was drawn from a gin cask. As far as I (and they) know that’s a first, and that peaked my interest. I decided to buy a bottle and bottle-share it. Mostly because I expected it to be more interesting than delicious.

I kind of like gin, and I also have tried some cask aged gins, to varying success. For this whisky to mature in a gin cask, the gin must have been in there first. My guess is that the gin went into a new oak cask which had previously not been used for any other booze.

Also, there is no information on whether this is a finished whisky, or one that matured on a gin cask. However, based on how this tastes and the way gin matures (quickly, in a few months) I assume that this was a finish of a year or so.

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Image from WhiskyBase

Sniff:
Very spirity with a lot of spiciness that reminds me of some rye whiskies I’ve had, like Old Potrero from Anchor Brewing in San Francisco. Slightly grassy but mostly just very spirity. Lots of new oak and some lemon like scents.

Sip:
The palate is sharp and tingling, with lots of bitterness and spices. Sweet citrus, that even adds to the sharpness. Slightly meaty too, somehow, with leafy herbs, new make spirit and a bit of oak.

Swallow:
The spirit is even more pronounced on the finish, with that crisp hint of gin (like the citrus notes from before). Some oak, with sweet sevillle oranges. Not very long.

I think to properly review this there has to be a bit of contemplation.

Since this is a first ever, from a gin cask, I think there’s a certain innovative value to this which I think is a good thing. Mostly because I think Scotch is a very stagnant industry and while that can be a good thing, it’s not used as such.

By that I mean that if the stagnation (in regards to innovation) would lead to better whiskies to the same recipe and production methods, that would be nice. And while the whisky produced is better for distillers (higher yield, more consistency), it does tend to make the experience slightly more bland for us consumers. We actually prefer the more rugged whiskies of yonder year, with more randomness and distillery character.

Unfortunately, the stagnation leads (from my perspective) to more marketing efforts trying to sell the same stuff in different guises, and whisky being less distinctive and individual than it could be. Also there’s far more generalization happening with almost all dsitillers switching to the same type of barley, the same type of yeast, malt from the same maltings, and so on.

This bit of innovation is therefore welcomed since it does something that is not done before, instead of recreating something that’s old hat.

However (there’s always a ‘however’), I doubt gin casks is the way to go. What has happened here, by assumption, is a new oak cask in which gin has sat to mature for up to a year or so.

This does two things to the whisky (and SMWS generally bottles stellar Glen Moray):

First, you undo a bit of the maturation, where alcohol and spirit notes get mellowed by time and oak and oxidation, by reintroducing it to an almost new spirit, like gin.

Second, because the oak is so new, the oak influence is much more rough and sharp than an ex-bourbon or ex-sherry cask.

So, a bit of maturation is undone and the whisky is therefore, I think, not as good as it could be. Although I find the gin influence very interesting, I’m not quite swayed with the result. This whisky is one to taste, maybe taste twice, and then move on. I, for one, am glad I don’t have the entire bottle for myself.

79/100 for flavor. 86/100 for novelty.

Glen Moray 13, ex-gin cask, 58.3%, SMWS 35.178 ‘The Dunnage Bakehouse’. Sold out.

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Willett, Family Estate Bottled Single Barrel Rye, cask 124, 58.7%

I have no idea why exactly, but I really love Willett. They used to release heaps of old rye whiskies, but those stocks seem to have depleted. Since a couple of years they’ve been distilling their own whiskey. Before that the whiskeys were sourced from elsewhere.

This six year old is from the bought stock, since their own releases were only two years old when this one was available. I recently saw a four year old being released somewhere.

Their own distillates are not single casks, by the way, they’re small batch whiskeys.

Anyway, a single barrel rye whiskey from Kentucky. From a distillery that has a reputation for great whiskeys. Should be good, right?

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Image from WhiskyBase

Sniff:
Dry, spicy rye, with a crisp hint as well. Wet oak with a sweet touch. Dry leaves and cigar tobacco.

Sip:
The palate is smoother than I expected (especially since the ABV is quite high). With some pink pepper corns and dryness. Somehow the whiskey sticks to your teeth, if you know what I mean. It gets a bit more hot after some swimming. Lots of sweet oak notes with spices and leafy herbs. Some cinnamon.

Swallow:
The finish is very rich and gentle. ‘Ontbijtkoek’, which practically translates to breakfast cake, and some light spices. Pink pepper, with sweetness and hints of oak.

This is a pretty great rye whiskey. I hadn’t really sat down for it before, and when I did, I finished the bottle (there wasn’t much left anyway). It’s not overly complex, but the quality is very high and it delivers everything you expect from a six year old rye whiskey.

Apparently this still should cost around € 80, and I think it’s worth it. There are some cheaper rye whiskeys of similar age available (Sazerac comes to mind) but those are quite less impressive, while still good. This one just works. Shame it’s gone!

87/100

Willett, Family Estate Bottled Single Barrel Rye, cask 124, 58.7%

 

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Caol Ila 12, 56.2% – OB for Feis Ile 2016

The final dram in last November’s tasting at De Whiskykoning was this wee Caol Ila. Somehow Caol Ila had fallen a bit off my radar unless it was from the early eighties and I was a tad disappointed it wasn’t the supposedly tremendous Lagavulin for the Islay Festival of Malts and Music.

The make up of this dram was a bit random as well. While it’s not the ‘triple cask’ stuff they had a couple of years ago it’s hogsheads and butts, so not specifically a bourbon cask whisky, and not specifically a sherry cask one either.

In the past Caol Ila was one of my favorite distilleries and with some drams I’ve tasted semi-recently, I see why. Their milky, slightly dirty spirit with a good dollop of smoke really works for me. Let’s see where this one falls/fell.

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Image from WhiskyBase

Sniff:
The style of smokiness that hits first is a bit of a diesel-y Mezcal like smoke. I love Mezcal! It’s also creamy and spicy with oak and some vanilla. Rich, oily smoke with some engine grease. Quite gentle, rich and some lysol. Towards the end it gets a bit fishy (so, brine, salt, that kind of stuff).

Sip:
The palate is sharper but still very rich. Oak and vanilla with some pastry cream. Desinfectant with some corky apple.Quite some oak indeed.

Swallow:
The finish again is sharp and rich. That Mezcal like smokiness is back again, with some engine grease and diesel. Quite long with creamy vanilla.

Well, I hadn’t need to worry about this not being awesome enough to close out an Islay tasting. This dram is bloody awesome!

The way this whisky is smoky is not something I’ve come across often, and since I have a penchant to really like Mezcal, it really works for me. During the tasting most people loved this dram the most, and I was one of them. The combination of flavors really works, and even the occassional hint of vanilla was really well placed.

In short, this is a tremendous dram, and I thoroughly loved it. Far more than I expected. I even bought a bottle!

91/100

Caol Ila 12, Hogsheads and Bodega Sherry Butts, 56.2%, Feis Ile 2016. Available through secondary markets for some € 200.

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Laphroaig Lore, 48%

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Image from WhiskyBase

Yet another NAS release from Laphroaig. I’ve said this in an article I wrote for our club’s magazine a few months ago, but Laphroaig has changed. And I am not talking about the distillate which was better in the sixties, or so I’ve heard.
When I started drinking single malt whiskies and be more than a little bit interested in this drink of ours, there were five different Laphroaigs regularly available. There was the 10, the 15, the Quarter Cask, a cask strength release and a 25 year old or so.

If you call up any whisky specialist’s website now, you’ll see Lore, An Cuan Mor, PX Cask, Canto Cask, QA Cask, Select, Brodir, Triple Wood on top of what was already there. Apart from this all being quite young whisky, it’s all quite expensive compared to the 10 year old. Also, and this bugs me most, apart from PX Cask, you don’t have a clue what to expect.
This Lore edition is one of the last ones to be added (until early 2017 that is, since there’s a Four Oak and a ‘The 1815’ on the way) and gets mixed reviews. Some people say this should be called Laphroaig ‘Core’ since it covers all the basics of Laphroaig, other say it should be called Laphroaig ‘Bore’ since it doesn’t do anything any of the dozen other release don’t do.

Sniff:
On the nose it’s medinical at first, with a rather gentle smokiness. Some oak, some tarry rope and shammy leather. Warming with a hint of cheese, petrol and barley. It’s quite spirity (read: young).

Sip:
The palate is very dry, and sharper than I expected. Slightly thin and watery, somehow (it’s 48% after all) with oak and barley. A hint of apple, pear and smoke follows.

Swallow:
The finish is a bit corky, with sweet lemon and spirit. Some oak, some salt and candy ‘foam blocks’.

5b661a7da709a72e3889d4797c8abcea_1349433651This is a slightly tricky whisky to review. I can see both Lore, Core and Bore versions of this having some merit. The whisky isn’t bad, although there could have been a bit more complexity and depth on the palate. It’s not a dram that will keep you occupied for a longer period of time.

On the other hand, young whiskies that aren’t overly interesting is something that Laphroaig has an abundance of on the shelves at the moment. I don’t really understand releases like this since it doesn’t add anything to ‘the Laphroaig experience’ people have.

So, the whisky isn’t bad, but not extremely good either. It’s quite forgettable and, let’s be honest, far too expensive for what it does. Especially since when it came out you could buy the amazing 15 year old from 2015 for the same amount.

80/100

Laphroaig Lore, 48%, available for about € 100 in The Netherlands.

 

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