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Whisky Tasting


Copyright Serge Valentin
Angus MacRaild




Hi, you're in the Archives, May 2024 - Part 2

May 2024 - part 1 <--- May 2024 - part 2 ---> Current entries


May 31, 2024


Feis Ile Special

Six carefully selected rather lovely Bowmore


Everyone's taking the same picture, only the light changes (WF Archive)


Because remember this is Feis Ile time. We're actually going to pick a few Bowmores from the library. We're not particularly aiming to sample the latest releases because after all, WF is a tasting journal, not a shopping guide, and we certainly don't do affiliation (strictly no rush to publish about bottlings while they're new or available). Now it's always nice to taste some excellent new releases but are there any such gems in the current 'official' Bowmore range? Quite possibly, but we'll explore that another time. We do love Bowmore.

By the way, I've just come across an old article featuring Big Jim McEwan, published in the French daily 'Libération' when he was the Distillery Manager at Bowmore, back in 1995. Here's his approach to whisky maturation: "The casks are stacked in warehouses by the sea, open to the spray and the winds. Now it's in God's hands, there's nothing more we can do, just wait, ten years, fifteen years..."
What if everyone went back to this method? After all, it has given us some absolutely divine whiskies.



Bowmore 25 yo (53.1%, Jack Wiebers for Formel Lau, Whisky Racing, Switzerland, sherry cask, 2023)

Bowmore 25 yo (53.1%, Jack Wiebers for Formel Lau, Whisky Racing, Switzerland, sherry cask, 2023) Five stars
Well, Bowmore and cars. Now some say you could race the brand new Vantage. Hmm… Colour: deep gold. Nose: one might easily conjure up visions of burnt petrol, scorching tyres, and brake dust... But, indeed, while there's a touch of carbon and graphite, it's predominantly the sea water and peat smoke, interlaced with nuts and raisins, that hold sway. With water: a surge of salinity, shellfish, a bit of bacon, kippers, and indeed some tar/tarmac come through. Mouth (neat): rich and fresh at the same time, with very pleasant notes of chartreuse, wormwood, liquorice, candied citron, and oysters... It's much more elegant than expected, and less 'carbonised'. With water: excellent, more lemony, sharp, and decidedly maritime. It likely pairs better with oysters than its counterparts from Islay's South shore. Finish: long, very fresh, this time with a focus on mandarins among the citrus fruits. Comments: it's remarkable how it transitions from a somewhat rugged malt to a far more elegant style. We are very close to 91 points here.
SGP:566 - 90 points.

Bowmore 17 yo 2001/2018 (54.2%, Cadenhead's Malt Festival, Cameron's Choice, hogshead)

Bowmore 17 yo 2001/2018 (54.2%, Cadenhead's Malt Festival, Cameron's Choice, hogshead) Five stars
We're just six years late. Colour: white wine. Nose: pretty perfect, very poised, dominated by wet chalk, lemon, seaweed, and pebbles. It's impeccably elegant, refined, and with Bowmore's DNA upfront, unmarred by any overt wood or wine influence. We've known since the 1990s that this is a flawless distillate, haven't we? With water: play-dough and candle wax now emerge, as does shoe polish. Mouth (neat): absolute perfection and echoes of the 1960s, featuring grapefruit peel, seaweed, oysters, limestone, and just the faintest hints of icing sugar. It might not be very complex, but it is exceedingly precise. With water: one, two, three, let's bow down. Sublime Bowmorian citrus. Finish: not very long but perfectly fresh. Oh, and that salt in the aftertaste! Sorry, that salinity! Comments: I find that Bowmore is one of the distillates, if not the distillate, that has the most to lose from being boosted by hyperactive casks, which, of course, was not the case here. A high-definition coastal malt, well done Cameron.
SGP:655 - 91 points.

Bowmore 14 yo 1999/2015 (46%, Douglas of Drumlanrig for Laida Weg Hotel, Italy, butt, cask #10148, 150 bottles)

Bowmore 14 yo 1999/2015 (46%, Douglas of Drumlanrig for Laida Weg Hotel, Italy, butt, cask #10148, 150 bottles) Five stars
Love these little one-off bottlings that some good folks have selected with care, soul, and heart for their patrons. We're in Rima San Giuseppe, Piemonte here. Google says this **** hotel is closed but Google is only Google. Colour: gold. Nose: this time, it's all about the oils—motor oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, olive oil… The citrus fruits are more candied but the shellfish presence is unmistakable. It's magnificent and quintessentially Bowmorian. The sherry is utterly discreet. With water: unnecessary, no change other than the ever-present wet chalk becoming more prominent. Or beach sand at low tide, whichever you prefer. Mouth (neat): a smoky and saline beauty. Oysters with a slight greasiness, lemon, and a fine bottle of Champagne. With water: water is superfluous. Finish: quite long, a bit sweeter, more on orange zest. And a well-balanced brut Champagne. A touch of pepper in the aftertaste. Comments: a hotel with taste. I hope Google is wrong once again.
SGP:566 - 90 points.

Bowmore 12 yo 1998/2010 (53.4%, Reifferscheid, Romantic Rhine Collection, sherry octave, cask #378194, 71 bottles)

Bowmore 12 yo 1998/2010 (53.4%, Reifferscheid, Romantic Rhine Collection, sherry octave, cask #378194, 71 bottles) Four stars
Shall we uncover a grand Rheingau Riesling like those from Robert Weil or Schloss Johannisberg? Once, I brought home a Schloss Johannisberg Trockenbeerenauslese that had been gifted to me, only to find my then-fiancée had poured it into a sauce while I was away. It didn't stop me from marrying her a few years later. Colour: straw. Nose: a lot of shoe polish this time, limestone in the rain, fresh walnuts (the sherry?), and mild curry. Not really Riesling, the jury's still out. With water: ah, now it might suggest a rather petroly Riesling, more Alsatian, if not Mosellan. Sorry, dear Rheingau. Mouth (neat): oily, mineral, with lots of shoe polish again and marmalade. Marzipan, the sort found in Mozart Kugeln. With water: orange zest, more marzipan... Finish: rather long, with a beautiful salinity but also hints of walnut cake. Comments: it remains top-notch, even if it struggles a wee bit after the previous sharp entries. But what does it matter, it's just a little octave sourced from Duncan Taylor and bottled fourteen years ago.
SGP:655 - 87 points.

Let's leap two decades… (we're carefully avoiding the 1980s, aren't we?).

Bowmore 27 yo 1973/2000 (50.5%, Blackadder, Raw Cask, for Heartland, Ohio,  USA, hogshead)

Bowmore 27 yo 1973/2000 (50.5%, Blackadder, Raw Cask, for Heartland, Ohio,  USA, hogshead) Five stars
Bottled at Blackadder's preferred strength of 101 US proof. One gets the feeling this should be quite an experience… Colour: pale gold. Nose: it's nearly all there. The main difference from the 1960s is that the exotic fruits are less dominant, while the oily, fermentative, smoky, and mineral elements are more pronounced. Therefore, the early 1970s might have been more peated, which makes sense since the demand for peated whiskies was very high at the time. Nonetheless, these notes of honey, beeswax, and old apples are magnificent. Also included are bandages, camphor, balms… With a splash of water: a slight soapy note that lingers long. Then, citrus peels and candles, both extinguished and burning. Mouth (neat): sublime honeys, beeswax, citrons, tangerines, salted kumquats, clams, riesling (hey?) With water: oh dear, that is beautiful! We're not quite at the level of the 1964 official releases, the Bicentenaries or the Samarolis (Bouquet), but we're approaching that territory. Finish: medium length but packed with waxes, oils, and citrus. Comments: this is so superior to the official 43 yo 1973 from just a few years ago! But then, it's also the distillery that presided over the birth of this other 1973. This is what distilleries generally forget: when an independent is magnificent, it inevitably reflects well on their reputation too, right?
SGP:654 - 92 points.

Moving on to the 60s... If that isn't a trip down memory lane!

Bowmore 40 yo 1966/2007 (43.9%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, oak cask, cask #3318, 164 bottles)

Bowmore 40 yo 1966/2007 (43.9%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, oak cask, cask #3318, 164 bottles) Five stars
Love these 'oak casks'. To our younger friends, you can't imagine the impact when Duncan Taylor launched a series of very old malts under the Peerless/Rare Auld labels, including these Bowmores as well as Macallan, Glenrothes, Glenlivet, Bunnahabhain, Caperdonich, Glen Grant, Highland Park… Not to mention the Invergordon grains. So, we're quite confident here. Colour: pale gold. Nose: we'll make this quick. Mangoes, passion fruits, pink bananas, and a few very petite flat oysters. Mouth: a sublimely delightful combination of passion fruit, mangoes, mandarins, pink grapefruit, meadow honey, and tiny shellfish, tasted as fresh as possible, straight from the sea. I can't think of what more to add. Finish: its only flaw, the finish isn't totally endless, while there are hints of oolong tea in the aftertaste (but that's not a flaw). Comments: all in finesse, which is also a flaw in a way, as it almost makes you want to serve it as a long drink. That is, neat, but in a tall glass. And with a straw. We'll spare you the little paper umbrella. By the way, in 2006 we had sister cask #3316 at 92, and #3317 at 93. Let's stay consistent…
SGP:753 - 93 points.

(Grazzie mille, KC, Tom and friends)

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Bowmore we've tasted so far


May 30, 2024


Feis Ile Special

A Few Bunnies ex-Sherry Cask

The challenge, when you amass samples of Bunnahabhain, as with Bruichladdich for that matter, is to avoid coming face to face with peated versions in your glasses. This is also true for Tobermory and, on rarer occasions, Springbank and quite a few other distilleries.

The favourite little joke of our friends
distillers and maltsters. (WF Archive)

They are numerous in having abandoned their own, if not historic, style to produce a bit of everything —unpeated, lightly peated, moderately peated, peated, heavily peated, immensely peated... Of course, each style is supposed to have its own brand (such as Moine, Stoisha etc.), but these brands being trademarked, it's not uncommon for independents to prefer simply naming the distilleries. It's up to the taster to sort them out... and sometimes to get a real shock. Because tasting a peated whisky when it wasn't anticipated or simply expected can sometimes be quite frankly dreadful. Well, say a little prayer for me, thanks in advance... We're going to go a bit at random now...



Bunnahabhain 'Bagh Cluin' (40%, OB, sherry and bourbon, +/-2023)

Bunnahabhain 'Bagh Cluin' (40%, OB, sherry and bourbon, +/-2023) Three stars
The name of this expression means 'Calm Bay.' Well, having sampled numerous NAS Bunnahabhains, we're all speaking Gaelic now, aren't we? Apparently, this is an exclusive version for Asia. Colour: gold. Nose: quite pleasing, dominated by brioche and slightly stale bread, complemented by bay leaf and fresh walnut, suggesting a hint of a sherry finish. There are definite maritime wafts, perhaps from the eponymous 'Calm Bay' near the distillery. One wonders if the casks indeed matured locally. There's also a touch of allspice and grated nutmeg adding to the complexity. Mouth: enjoyable, featuring bitter orange and bay leaf again, then branching into some strawberry and grenadine notes, though I'm not entirely sure where these flavours are springing from. Walnut wine and a dash of savagnin under veil add further layers to this intriguing profile. Finish: reasonably long for its strength, carrying similar notes before concluding with a salty bitterness and even a hint of mustard. Comments: rather better than what I'd expected from a NAS at 40% ABV.
SGP:461 - 82 points.

Bunnahabhain 32 yo 1976/2009 (43.1%, The Whisky Cask, The Stills, sherry cask)

Bunnahabhain 32 yo 1976/2009 (43.1%, The Whisky Cask, The Stills, sherry cask) Four stars and a half
Glad to have this one in the glass. Colour: pale gold. Nose: the sherry is merely a footnote here; instead, we're graced with one of those Bunnies that luxuriate in yellow and white fruits—think pear and greengage—followed by just a hint of shortbread and almond milk. Then comes a delightful apple tart, drizzled with a touch of honey and a drop of guava juice. Everything here is elegant, nothing is overdone. Mouth: it's really quite splendid, with a somewhat understated style that echoes the glorious mid to late 1960s. This is decidedly not about the cask; it's refined, focusing on Western fruits and gentle honeys, with a very slight coastal hint, floral notes, and herbal teas. Think traditional chamomile or perhaps rosehip. It's really quite charming, albeit somewhat reserved. Finish: medium-length, really loaded with very ripe apple and mead. Comments: while it's certainly no longer a bottle you'd find under a horse's hoof, I think the connoisseur should indeed seek out one old Bunny of this style and era.
SGP:541 - 88 points.

Honestly, I've realised that 90% of what's been coming out for the past two or three years is peated Bunnahabhain. What's going on? Have they stopped making regular Bunnahabhain? Regardless, we're focusing on older releases that we haven't yet tried, so…

Bunnahabhain 16 yo 2001/2014 (55.8%, Claxton's, oloroso, cask #1730-1429)

Bunnahabhain 16 yo 2001/2014 (55.8%, Claxton's, oloroso, cask #1730-1429) Four stars
Oh, Claxton's ! Colour: full gold. Nose: initial light scents of spent matches and plasticine give way to nut oils and dried fruits, predominantly very dark raisins and dates. A note of damp earth emerges later, accompanied by traditional pipe tobacco. With water: some candied cherries and copper (think old pennies) appear. A very attractive nose indeed. Mouth (neat): quite delightful, and though it's a rich sherry influence (leaning more towards fine PX than oloroso, truth be told), the distillate still asserts itself with its honeyed notes and very slight salty touches. With water: it becomes perfect, echoing with chestnut honey, raisins, figs, that signature pipe tobacco, and a splash of orange liqueur adding a fresher dimension. Finish: long, with hints of spiced meats. Definitely reminiscent of an Indian dish. Roasted chestnuts and a bit of liquorice appear towards the end. Comments: really superb, these Bunnahabhains by Claxton. We continue to pray that the distillers keep producing this style.
SGP:651 - 87 points.

More oloroso then…

Bunnahabhain 25 yo 1991/2017 (50.5%, Blackadder, Raw Cask, for Taiwan, sherry butt, cask #5436)

Bunnahabhain 25 yo 1991/2017 (50.5%, Blackadder, Raw Cask, for Taiwan, sherry butt, cask #5436) Five stars
Colour: dark amber. Nose: it's a full-on sherry profile with aromas of dried beef, game, walnut wine, bitter chocolate, dried flat parsley, natural wood polish, a cigar box (holding closer to 50 rather than 25 cigars), and mint. Quite spectacular. With water: consistent, no additions. Perhaps a few metallic touches, old tools, an aged saucepan, an old kettle… Mouth (neat): a splendid sherry character, robust but not overpowering, very much featuring chocolate, caramel, black nougat, toasted walnuts and pecans, espresso coffee… And there's hardly a hint of sugar. With water: oh yes, quite beautiful, becoming salty. Miso, umami, Maggi… This very 'glutamatey' aspect is quite satisfying. Finish: it continues on the same notes, plus a bit of pepper, lingering for quite some time. Comments: Taiwanese big boy. Our friends in Taiwan tend to sweep up the superb sherry casks, one must watch out (I'm jesting, we adore them).
SGP:662 - 90 points.

For a change, a bit of Marsala...

Bunnahabhain 15 yo 2002/2018 (53.1%, Wilson & Morgan, Marsala finish, casks #3061-62, 507 bottles)

Bunnahabhain 15 yo 2002/2018 (53.1%, Wilson & Morgan, Marsala finish, casks #3061-62, 507 bottles) Four stars
I quite like the fact that our Italian friends at W&M are championing their national 'sherries', the Marsalas. There you have it, I'm a dead man. Anyway, I'm not exactly an expert in Marsala… Colour: white wine. Nose: this is not sherry. There are very pretty notes of small white fruits, cherries, and white currants, little apples, then some light beech smoke, bread dough, and sourdough... I quite like this. With water: it becomes floral, with rose petals and honeysuckle. The honeysuckles at WF Towers are in full bloom, you should see how fragrant they are! Mouth (neat): it combines well, though there's a slightly sulphurous edge at first. It continues with loads of peaches in all sorts and forms, plus a very slight muscat note. With water: the honeysuckle returns, with honey and a bit of cane syrup, which is less interesting, we agree. Finish: medium length, sweeter notes prevailing. Comments: I think one can easily overlook this kind of malt because it's not very classic, but if you engage with it, it has some very nice things to say. With flowers! What type of Marsala was this?
SGP:641 - 86 points.

What if we had one without sherry or any other wines?

Bunnahabhain 30 yo 1987/2017 (48.3%, A.D. Rattray, Vintage Cask Collection, bourbon hogshead, cask #1298, 243 bottles)

Bunnahabhain 30 yo 1987/2017 (48.3%, A.D. Rattray, Vintage Cask Collection, bourbon hogshead, cask #1298, 243 bottles) Five stars
Is it still possible to find a bottle like this, seven years on? My goodness, seven years already! Colour: gold. Nose: it's like the 1976 but with more oomph, more tension, more precision, mainly focused on a beehive, with its honey, beeswax, and pollen, then overripe apples and the nectar from flowers like dandelions. It's very beautiful and honestly, blindfolded, I would have guessed it was from 1972 or 1976. I know, the concept of vintages is dubious when it comes to whiskies. Unless I'm wrong, generally, it's barley from the previous year that they're using; anyway. Mouth: only a slight hint of intrusive woodiness might prevent it from reaching the heights of a 91+. Aside from that, the vanilla pod custard, acacia flower fritters, notes of fresh panettone, earl grey, and Middle-Eastern pastries (stay strong!) are sublime. I need some good synonyms for sublime, without veering too much into the clownish or the sexist, as the whisky world has already been there, done that. If you have any ideas, send me a postcard. Finish: quite long, a bit mentholated and aniseed. Drops of sweet absinthe. Comments: should they really peat all this magnificent malt concocted by those somewhat chubby but so elegant stills?
SGP:641 - 90 points.

Well, things are going rather well, we've successfully dodged the peated ones so far (it's easy, you can tell because they are younger).

Bunnahabhain 30 yo 1990/2020 (58.6%, Alambic Classique, Rare Old Selection, oloroso sherry cask, cask #20027, 114 bottles)

Bunnahabhain 30 yo 1990/2020 (58.6%, Alambic Classique, Rare Old Selection, oloroso sherry cask, cask #20027, 114 bottles) Five stars
Colour: amber. Nose: Is it Christmas already? There's an abundance of fruitcake, but with all the Bunnahabhain elegance reminiscent of legendary bottles like 'Auld Acquaintance' (now, that was a splendid name!). Exquisite notes of blackcurrant buds followed by indeed figs and dates, candied bananas, cooked caramel, toffee, Mars bars as if prepared by a three-star chef, spruce honey, teriyaki beef jerky, and gianduja... Well, it's simply perfect. With water: it turns more herbal, more resinous. Propolis and beeswax. Mouth (neat): what can I say. Honeys, chocolates, toffees, caramels, plus coastal notes, dried apricots, cured meats, sweet liquorice, candied citrus, roasted peanuts, old Demerara rum... With water: beeswax and rancio (think Rivesaltes, Malaga, Banyuls…) now come to the fore. Finish: long, balanced, not overwhelming, almost fresh, with orange lingering in the aftertaste. Comments: I believe my sample came from a bottle that had been open for at least a few months. That's generally what big sherry 'monsters' need; it's best not to taste them right after opening the bottle. They need some oxygen, as Diane Dusfresne is singing. Better still: cellar them for twenty or thirty years.
SGP:652 - 91 points.

Let's stop here. Yes, already, but nothing could 'top' the Alambic Classique anyway. I mean, nothing in the stash.

(Merci Tom)

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Caol Ila we've tasted so far


May 29, 2024


A very large bag of new cats from bonnie Scotland

Indeed, I think it's time to once again savour some new kittens from Scotland



Eden Mill 'Bourbon Cask' (46%, OB, 2023)

Eden Mill 'Bourbon Cask' (46%, OB, 2023) Three stars
Here we are in St Andrews, in the Lowlands. The days when only Glenkinchie and Auchentoshan were representing this region are long gone. This whisky has been fully matured in bourbon casks. So far, we had only tasted one expression from Eden Mill. Colour: white wine. Nose: pleasant and light, with notes of custard, eggnog, gooseberry, and honeysuckle. There's also a lot of apple (golden), with a hint of lily of the valley and acacia honey. It's light, easy, enjoyable, and rather not too simple. Perfect for this summer. There's a very slight metallic touch (aluminium) and some tapioca. Mouth: it's good, maybe not immensely unique, but pleasant. Bread, barley, beer, lemon, apple, and vanilla fudge. Perhaps a bit for the locavores, like some craft beers that are nothing special but are local and "just as good as the others." Finish: a bit short. Apple tart, vanilla, green tea. More of a herbal aftertaste. Comments: nothing to complain about, it's rather honest and straightforward. A pity they've opted for NAS.
SGP:451 - 81 points.

A bit of double-checking can't hurt...

Eden Mill 'The Guard Bridge' (46%, OB, blended malt, 2023)

Eden Mill 'The Guard Bridge' (46%, OB, blended malt, 2023) Three stars and a half
Oops, this is a blended malt from Eden Mill that combines Eden Mill and other malts. To be honest, the label doesn't attribute it to the distillery, so this isn't a new case of 'Cardhu Pure Malt'. Anyway, I believe the Scots have learned their lesson by now. So, let's have a taste… Colour: white wine. Nose: more substance and depth, but that's probably to be expected. Chalk, sourdough, fresh brioche, then blooming wildflowers and canned peaches. Mouth: more vibrant, fresher, fruitier, with those ripe and canned peaches again, then honey and maple syrup, agave syrup 'loud and clear', some juicy little sultanas… This 46% ABV always works so well, regardless of the distillate style. Finish: medium length, honeyed, with lemon shortbread. Is there such a thing as lemon shortbread? Comments: there's a slight hint of young Glenmorangie in its natural state. I find it really good.
SGP:551 - 83 points.

We stay a bit in the Lowlands...

Annandale 2019/2024 (61%, OB, Private Cask for Hermann Brothers, Woodford Reserve double cask, cask #1179, 256 bottles)

Annandale 2019/2024 (61%, OB, Private Cask for Hermann Brothers, Woodford Reserve double cask, cask #1179, 256 bottles) Four stars
We have already tasted some excellent Annandale and we don't mind this type of cask as long as it doesn't turn into a vanilla and ginger bomb. Colour: gold. Nose: another example of a malt with very pronounced and somewhat modern wood influence, but it works very well, leaning towards sweet spices, roasted banana, dark nougat, pancake syrup, cinnamon cake… All this at over 60% ABV. With water: the dough comes through, with a hint of truffle. White truffle from Piedmont, not black. The most expensive! Mouth (neat): very creamy, almost oily, sweet, modern, very spicy, with plenty of smoked bacon and lemon balm. It's very concentrated; I'm not sure if I should love it, but I must admit I rather do. A fine touch in the 'growing' of this cask. With water: same, just a bit gentler, with a few drops of the obligatory limoncello that we keep mentioning. By the way, where's the Ferrari, dear Limoncello Producers Association? Finish: similar, with a lovely length. It finishes fresh and very fruity. Comments: totally modern and very good. A young malt that defies nostalgia.
SGP:652 - 87 points.

Finglassie (Inchdairnie) 7 yo 2017/2024 (57.7%, James Eadie, refill oloroso quarter cask finish, cask #374469, 127 bottles)

Finglassie (Inchdairnie) 7 yo 2017/2024 (57.7%, James Eadie, refill oloroso quarter cask finish, cask #374469, 127 bottles) Four stars
You are right, after a stint in a quarter cask of oloroso, not much of the original character of the distillate should remain, but I would say that the key word here is 'refill'. And they do know what they're doing… Colour: pale gold. Nose: it is both soft and medicinal, almost reminiscent of a blend of young Laphroaig and Bruichladdich, let's say a 1/3 – 2/3 ratio. Camphor, bandages, liniments, then peaches and melons. I didn't find as much smoke in the previous Finglassie by James Eadie. With water: similar impressions. Mouth (neat): same sentiments. It's excellent, with a lovely body. Coastal citrus fruits, smoked with peat. The texture is not far off from the Annandale's. With water: the smoke recedes, and the candied citrus fruits take centre stage. Grapefruit, citron, sweet mint, fresh coriander. Finish: still as good, this time it's the Indian and Indonesian spices that dominate. Satay sauce in the aftertaste, which we adore. Comments: The oloroso was quite discreet – we told you, didn't we?
SGP:653 - 87 points.

Isle of Raasay 'Dùn Cana First Edition' (52%, OB, 2023)

Isle of Raasay 'Dùn Cana First Edition' (52%, OB, 2023) Three stars and a half
A blend of peated and unpeated Raasay, first matured in American rye then finished in PX and oloroso quarter casks. Where have we already seen that last part? I remember we've had a superb 'Peated Ex-Rye' last year (WF 88). Colour: gold. Nose: it appears juicy, with notes of very, very ripe mirabelles, freshly distilled kirsch, baker's yeast, and artisanal amber beer. Overall, it's rather yeasty and fermentative. The peat seems quite discreet. With water: not much different. It's like wood-fired pizza dough (doused with whisky, ha). Mouth (neat): quite unusual. It feels like ale aged in peated whisky casks, as you sometimes encounter. Then there's plenty of curry, caraway, ras-el-hanout, pepper… And always those very, very ripe mirabelles. Basically, you could distil them straight away, if you catch my drift. With water: the rye cask remains in control. The peat wavers a bit, coming and going. Finish: rather long, still on ferments, beer, and mirabelles that have seen better days. Some chocolate from the casks in the aftertaste. Comments: a very good Raasay, but perhaps not my favourite. I prefer more purity, more singularity, if you will. Here, it feels a bit like a jigsaw puzzle.
SGP:653 - 83 points.

Ardnahoe 'Feis Ile 2024' (59.4%, OB)

Ardnahoe 'Feis Ile 2024' (59.4%, OB) Four stars and a half
I think it's Ardnahoe Day today at Feis Ile! So, we celebrate this from afar, as we have the special release in hand. Colour: chardonnay. OK, perhaps a not too pale white wine. Nose: it seems gently peated and rather soft, but let's be cautious, as water can change things significantly, as we well know. Fresh bark, twigs, celery, and gentian, with a hint of wasabi or horseradish, and a touch of sea water… With water: the peated malted barley comes through first, followed by crushed and wet slate, then a fluid, maritime peat, with quite a bit of ash. Mouth (neat): pure lemony and earthy peat. That's what you get at this high strength. Both rich and vertical, one might even dare to compare it to a grand chardonnay. Though we're not quite at the level of a great vintage Meursault… With water: very classic, more mentholated, with touches of green chartreuse, beyond the lemon and oysters. Finish: long, fresh, almost refreshing. Comments: the refreshing side is, of course, a trap, so beware, let's all beware, it goes down very easily once reduced to, say, 50% ABV. What I also find extremely clever is offering such a pure and natural version for Feis Ile, while quite a few other distilleries have ventured, for many years now, into weird casks. Let's say it's on par with the Inaugural Release, though we're not in a position to compare as we've drunk all we had of the latter. It wasn't a double magnum, rest assured. It might even be a bit better still, fresher, more vibrant…
SGP:567 - 89 points.

A probably very different style now...

Dalmunach 6 yo 2013/2022 (56.4%, North Star Spirits, ruby Port barrel finish, 285 bottles)

Dalmunach 6 yo 2013/2022 (56.4%, North Star Spirits, ruby Port barrel finish, 285 bottles) Three stars and a half
Ruby Port, how to put it... On the other hand, who can precisely describe the distinctive style of Dalmunach's distillate? Colour: crushed old strawberry. Sorry, I couldn't come up with anything else. Nose: yes, strawberry tart, strawberry wine, PX, malmsey… Let's say it's quite different. With water: fresh cement, chalk, old damp wood, mosses… Mouth (neat): this isn't whisky anymore, but it works. Strawberry liqueur fortified with marc de Bourgogne, rouge-cassis (red wine with blackcurrant syrup), then loads of dried figs and Smyrna raisins. All this is certainly not very Portuguese, but it's definitely not Scottish either. With water: same, we've left the whisky universe, but the result is really good. Long live strawberry jam! Finish: long and on strawberry muffins drizzled with honey. No, there is no such thing as strawberry honey. Comments: the kind of good bottle you should take with a pinch of salt, or in Champagne. So, who could explain the 'distillery character' of Dalmunach to me?
SGP:741 - 84 points.

Something tidy please…

Ardnamurchan AD/CK.371-30/07/15 (59.2%, OB, bourbon barrel, 2020, 5cl)

Ardnamurchan AD/CK.371-30/07/15 (59.2%, OB, bourbon barrel, 2020, 5cl) Four stars
I think they did this wee bottling during the Covid pandemic. Now that we're certain we have no (visible) after-effects, we can taste it... Colour: very pale white wine. Nose: varnish, acetone, green apples, charcoal, barley syrup, porridge, and petrol. It's all happening quickly. With water: bandages, chalk, and fresh rubber. Mouth (neat): very good, tense, earthy, with lime zest. It gives your palate a bit of a scrub, but that's likely just an impression. At least, I hope so. With water: melon rind at the forefront, then green pepper and especially cough syrup. I find a lot of eucalyptus in it. Finish: long, still on varnish, green pepper, smoke, and that disinfectant note (but of course, Covid time whisky). Comments: probably a bit rough, but perhaps that was necessary to fight the nasty virus. To be honest, there's a slight hint of hand sanitizer, but it's still Ardnamurchan, and we love Ardnamurchan. As for the names of their cuvées, I do wonder how enthusiasts without at least a PhD manage to decipher them.
SGP:565 - 85 points.

Dornoch 5 yo 2018/2022 (60.53%, OB, 1st fill bourbon octave, cask #5, 77 bottles)

Dornoch 5 yo 2018/2022 (60.53%, OB, 1st fill bourbon octave, cask #5, 77 bottles) Four stars and a half
We know the place, the brothers, their environment, the parents, the pets and everything else... Honestly, we have no idea how they've managed to produce whiskies like these. Colour: gold. Nose: incredible pine resin, mint, nutmeg, rye bread, and lemon blended to perfection. What is this stuff? With water: a lot of damp wood after a heavy, wild downpour. Plenty of little herbs, leaves, mushrooms, bark, mosses... Mouth (neat): once again, I find an American touch in this juice; it must be the casks they've used. Oh, we're not talking about Maker's Mark, we're talking about Westland and a few others. It's perfect. With water: a bit of ginger liqueur, ginseng, candied oranges... Finish: long, with wood essences but it's never becoming 'woody'. Comments: and it's one of the first casks, isn't it? I take my hat off to them, once again.
SGP:561 - 88 points.

Dornoch 5 yo 2017/2023 (58.2%, OB, cask #33, 1st fill bourbon octave, 88 bottles)

Dornoch 5 yo 2017/2023 (58.2%, OB, 1st fill bourbon octave, cask #33, 88 bottles) Four stars and a half
Colour: gold. Nose: it's much purer, straightforward, and Scottish, and frankly, it reminds me of Daftmill. I fear I may never be able to wander around the Dornoch area again from now on. With water: a bit more marked by the cask, with sweet ginger, cinnamon cake, and sweet woodruff... That's the thing with octaves, everything is magnified. Mouth (neat): magnificent lemony tension. It's narrow yet rich, all while being ultra-precise. If this means anything to you, it's like a Pouilly-Fumé from Dagueneau's great vintages. Really. With water: it becomes even more a treat. Lemon meringue pie with grated zest. Delicious. Finish: long but spicier. Perhaps just a tiny a tad too spicy for me. Comments: only the slightly marked wood prevents me from going to 90. Dura Lex, sed Lex, but this is a superb little Dornoch, in any case.
SGP:651 - 89 points.

How about we try to find a 90, what do you say?

Dornoch 4 yo 2019/2024 (58.6%, OB for Limburg, bourbon octaves, cask #180, 103 bottles)

Dornoch 4 yo 2019/2024 (58.6%, OB for Limburg, bourbon octaves, cask #180, 103 bottles) Four stars and a half
I suppose that's two octaves. Colour: gold. Nose: it is much less expansive than the others, even though there's summer Comté cheese combined with bananas and dried pineapples. This cheesy note is quite exceptional, in the sense that it is unusual. Rest assured, we are very far from gym socks, a rugby locker room, or Trump's bedroom. With water: even more cheese. Caraway Gouda, truffle Brie. Mouth (neat): exceptional. White pepper, pink pepper, cardamom, rose petal jelly, paprika, sesame oil, blood oranges, Manzanilla. Unfiltered Manzanilla, of course. They have a knack with these octaves; why doesn't it work quite as well elsewhere? With water: it's almost like Vosges fir bud liqueur. Finish: same. Comments: quite sublime, but it's a notch too deviant to reach 90. Close, but no cigar.
SGP:572 - 89 points.

Dornoch 4 yo 2018/2022 (57.9%, OB, bourbon, cask #129, 75 bottles)

Dornoch 4 yo 2018/2022 (57.9%, OB, bourbon, cask #129, 75 bottles) Three stars and a half
Colour: pale gold. Nose: this one is truly pure. Fresh sawdust, natural vanilla, peaches, melons, quince... everything is natural this time. With water: it's the same. Sawdust, vanilla, even a hint of grated coconut. You might think you were in a massive Diageo or Pernod warehouse, that's how 'un-Dornoch' this nose is, in some way. Mouth (neat): no, wait, there's a lot of pine resin, vegetal tar, cloves, freshly ground pepper... It doesn't seem like a simple barrel, does it? Or was it bought at IKEA in Inverness? (Do they even have an IKEA in Inverness?) With water: the spices, the resins, and the conifer woods take over completely. Finish: long but really focused on pine, pine needles, and the liqueurs made from them... Comments: nose and palate amazingly dissimilar. Very good, but there are better ones (no we didn't overthink that last part).
SGP:471 - 84 points.

Well, that means we must continue our quest for a 90...

Dornoch 4 yo 2020/2024 (54.3%, OB, for Dornoch Castle Hotel, ex-Koval cask, cask #207, 178 bottles)

Dornoch 4 yo 2020/2024 (54.3%, OB, for Dornoch Castle Hotel, ex-Koval cask, cask #207, 178 bottles) Four stars
It's not Koval bourbon, it's Koval 4-grains. Doesn't that include millet? Colour: white wine. Nose: well yes, it works, with lovely vanilla, muesli and porridge, peaches, apricots and tinned pears, then a slight maritime touch, saline, or rather like pickle brine and garlic. It's very amusing and somewhat Provençal. With water: lots of porridge. Mouth (neat): pronounced woodiness, Koval being necessarily a very young whiskey. This means the ex-Koval casks remain very active, in theory. Here, you can feel it. With water: I get the impression that the cask has somewhat neutralised the lovely Dornoch distillate. Green bananas, plantain, polenta, vanillin, porridge… Finish: medium length. Barley, beer, vanilla, oak, tobacco, chocolate in the aftertaste. Comments: blimey, and firecrackers!
SGP:551 - 85 points.

Nothing will resist us...

Dornoch 5 yo 2019/2024 (63.1%, OB, for Chichibu Matsuri, cask #136)

Dornoch 5 yo 2019/2024 (63.1%, OB, for Chichibu Matsuri, cask #136) Five stars
Floor malted organic Marris Otter, second fill Koval rye and spent local brewers yeast. Colour: pale gold. Nose: you can tell immediately when it works. Here, it works. Lemon, bread dough, fresh croissants, Szechuan pepper. The feeling is quite good at this stage. With water: it's a razor-sharp blade. It's like a great white Bordeaux from a slightly cool vintage. Admittedly, there aren't many of those cold vintages left, perhaps 2024? Let's pray together… It's worth noting that in theory, the Scots don't need to care much about vintages, since they can import barley from anywhere in the world – unless they're part of the new wave of own-estate distilleries or only use local grain, that is. Crikey, I might need to rehire a few bodyguards… Mouth (neat): 90 points, easily. Lemon, smoke, white asparagus, gentian, manzanilla, sea water, white pepper. With water: bingo. Ultra-precise, like a true Swiss watch work. It's just a tad sweet, but that's fine. Finish: indeed sweet, but still highly precise. Blind, we could have said it's one of those new authentic craft Japanese whiskies. Chichibu-y indeed. Comments: joking aside, we've found a 90, so we can end this seemingly endless tasting session with peace of mind.
SGP:662 - 90 points.

Wait! We still don't have a real slot for Kininvie, which we still somewhat consider a new distillery. Yes, it's silly, but since there's so little of it...

Aldunie 25 yo 1997/2023 (54.5%, WhiskyFacile, Black Cat series, blended malt, bourbon barrel, 171 bottles)

Aldunie 25 yo 1997/2023 (54.5%, WhiskyFacile, Black Cat series, blended malt, bourbon barrel, 171 bottles) Four stars
Aldunie is the trade name for William Grant's Kininvie when it is supposedly teaspooned, but since absolutely no one knows Kininvie (except a few mad enthusiasts like you and me), this makes no sense whatsoever. Or am I missing something? Colour: gold. Nose: lovely, fresh, somewhat in the style of its cousin, Balvenie's Burnside. Vanilla, oak shavings, a bit of grated coconut, quince tart, touches of patchouli and rose petals… Not bad at all. With water: fresh oak, sesame, pleasant nougat… Mouth (neat): rather very good, firm, with wood spices, plums, but also plenty of vanilla and coconut. Granted, you have to like vanilla and coconut. With water: softer, almost syrupy. Abundant honey and cane syrup. Finish: medium length, oak, a touch of tobacco, tea with milk as our dear English friends drink it, and honey… Comments: not many edges and asperities in this well-aged Kininvie, but the level remains high. It was some rather very good filler for rather very good old blends, was it not?
SGP:641 - 85 points.

We'll stop here! Bravo Ardnahoe and bravo Dornoch! Well done to all the others!


May 28, 2024


Feis Ile Special

32 Caol Ila, part one

Although Caol Ila is the number one distillery on Whiskyfun in terms of the number of expressions tasted, we have once again fallen behind, and a good thirty of them are now in the queue.

This situation also affects other distilleries such as Highland Park (or the secret Orkneys), Laphroaig, Bruichladdich, and many others. Therefore, we are going to try, exceptionally, to speed up the process by shortening the length of tasting notes for the less spectacular expressions. However, this is difficult to do, as some whiskies really only reveal themselves after a good fifteen minutes in your glass. So, let's say we will spend less time on, for example, an eight-year-old Caol Ila finished in STR cask or Merlot. Well, you get the idea... But we might not succeed. Oh, and we'll be doing this randomly, as a vertical tasting would be far too tedious for this humble taster.



Go to Part two - Part three - Part four



Caol Ila 9 yo 2013/2022 (58.4%, Douglas Laing, Provenance, for Or Sileis, Taiwan, refill barrel, cask #DL 16017, 227 bottles)

Caol Ila 9 yo 2013/2022 (58.4%, Douglas Laing, Provenance, for Or Sileis, Taiwan, refill barrel, cask #DL 16017, 227 bottles) Four stars
It's good to start with a young Caol Ila that should be very pure. Colour: white wine. Nose: lime, wet chalk, oysters, cigar ashes, seawater, Mercurochrome. We're off to a good start, I believe. With water: the proverbial virgin wool, porridge, fresh paint, and new linoleum. Apparently, linoleum's coming back into fashion. Mouth (neat): still a lot of lime, ash, and a rough edge related to its age and bottling strength. It's almost like a daiquiri with Hampden DOK. With water: citrus fruits, seawater, white pepper, still plenty of ash. Finish: very long for Caol Ila. Comments: have they increased the phenol ppm in Caol Ila? In fact, it's excellent, despite the slight harshness.
SGP:567 - 87 points.

Caol Ila 15 yo 2008/2023 (58.3%, Dramfool, Middle Cut, cask # 313320)

Caol Ila 15 yo 2008/2023 (58.3%, Dramfool, Middle Cut, cask # 313320) Three stars and a half
Beware, this has been finished for two years in a red wine barrique, thankfully it was refill. Colour: pale gold. Nose: much fruitier than the 2013, with ripe mirabelle plums and apples, even cider. As a result, the peat seems lighter at this stage. With water: and voilà, again a new jumper in pure virgin wool and porridge. Also cold smoke, as in a kiln that hasn't been used since the last festival. Mouth (neat): still that lovely fruitiness on the attack, but then quite massive white and green peppers come in, further accentuating the much more brutal peat on the palate. With water: similar. One wonders if there's some cabernet here, bringing in its notes of pepper and green and red bell pepper. Finish: long, quite harsh, peppery, but plum jam comes through to rebalance everything in the aftertaste. Comments: not bad at all for a red wine finish, but of course, we tend to prefer them in their natural state.
SGP:466 - 84 points.

While we're at it...

Caol Ila 9 yo 2014/2024 (54.9%, The Single Cask for The Whisky Barrel, sherry octave, cask #321523, 58 bottles)

Caol Ila 9 yo 2014/2024 (54.9%, The Single Cask for The Whisky Barrel, sherry octave, cask #321523, 58 bottles) Four stars
Micro-outturn, from an octave. Could be great or wrecked. Colour: copper amber. Nose: I doubt they would have bottled a wrecked octave, right. Shall we call this one 'medicinal walnuts'? It's really a strange combination, but it could really work, not too sure, water is needed… With water: more medicinal walnuts, soy sauce, lovage, Maggi, parsley, perhaps dried morels… Mouth (neat): forget about malt whisky and imagine you're in Jerez, drinking some old very oloroso-y VORS that's got a little gunpowder and pine ashes. With water: bresaola, biltong, those kinds of meaty treats. Eating bits of pipe tobacco. Finish: long, still pretty huge. Smoke, walnuts, medicines, liquorice. A lot of pencils shavings in the aftertaste, which is typically 'octave' in my book. Comments: crazy octaves. The thing is, they're all pretty different, which just further fractalizes our references, if you see what I mean. Yeah well, not even sure I see what I mean myself. Between 85 and 86.
SGP:376 - 86 points.

After an octave, a firkin!

Caol Ila 2010/2022 (48.9%, The Firkin Islay, Marsala, cask #SC41, 262 bottles)

Caol Ila 2010/2022 (48.9%, The Firkin Islay, Marsala, cask #SC41, 262 bottles) Three stars and a half
A firkin is meant to be a 'real' quarter – not a quarter that's a half – so around 40 to 50 litres. Which is not the case at all here, given the outturn. Colour: pale gold. Nose: it's gentler, with a nice touch of Sauternes, plum jam and quince jelly, raisin rolls… This is a really very kind Caol Ila, one might say. Mouth: yes, it's gentle, pleasant, goes down easily, very slightly salty and moderately smoky. The Marsala has probably nicely rounded off the malt. Finish: of medium length, this time with more ashes. Comments: it really does the job very well. And I insist, it goes down easily.
SGP:645 - 84 points.

Well then, let's try a super young one...

Caol Ila 6 yo 2016/2023 (54.2%, Hidden Spirits, sherry cask finish, cask #CI1623)

Caol Ila 6 yo 2016/2023 (54.2%, Hidden Spirits, sherry cask finish, cask #CI1623) Three stars and a half
Lovely view of Edinburgh on the label, or so it seems. Colour: white wine. Nose: the charm of these young whiskies is that they remain close to the distillate, in this case, ashes and langoustines. Yes, I assure you, langoustines. The sherry remains extremely discreet. With water: and bam, once again, clay and virgin wool. Pardon? Yes, and porridge. Mouth (neat): lemon, green apple, ashes, pepper, sweets, more pepper, even more pepper… And a touch of mild vinegar. It somewhat reminds me of those pepper sweets we used to buy in joke shops to prank our friends when we were kids. With water: smoked apple juice. Typical of a very young Caol Ila. Finish: the same, the pepper lurks, with ashes in the aftertaste. Comments: young and pleasant. Or rather, young but pleasant.
SGP:456 - 83 points.

Caol Ila 13 yo 2009/2023 (60.3%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, French Exclusive, refill sherry hogshead, cask #307087, 232 bottles)

Caol Ila 13 yo 2009/2023 (60.3%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, French Exclusive, refill sherry hogshead, cask #307087, 232 bottles) Four stars and a half
Remember all the 'original Caol Ilas' that G&M have released in the past? Colour: deep gold. Nose: ah yes, burnt walnuts, fresh mint, paint, wrinkled old apples, camphor balm... There's quite a lot going on here! With water: even fresher, more on green walnuts and burnt pinewood. Mouth (neat): quite enormous. Magnificent citrons and lemons, very vertical peat, at least mineral, then an abundance of mint. It talks and talks a lot. With water: splendid citrus, mild peppers, ashes, menthol tobacco… Finish: almost eternal, just a bit harsh. Ashes and green apple. Comments: a real beauty. It reminds one of those older Caol Ilas from G&M's 'Cask Strength' series. The ones with those simple yet so elegant labels…
SGP:567 - 89 points.

One last for this flight... There will be many more to come.

Caol Ila 24 yo '175th Anniversary' (52.1%, OB, 3,000 bottles, 2021)

Caol Ila 24 yo '175th Anniversary' (52.1%, OB, 3,000 bottles, 2021) Five stars
It was about time we tried this baby. It was the 175th anniversary of the original distillery but remember it had been totally rebuilt in the early 1970s. Colour: straw. Nose: clean. Ashes, asparagus, broken branches, green bananas, seaweed on the beach, seashells, mild peat, a little sage… With water: a brand-new three-piece suit from Walker Slater in Edinburgh. Well, they have them made in Asia, of course. Mouth (neat): a lot of elegance, around softer citrus and precious apples. A very mild honeyness, touches of grapefruit and papaya, oranges, Timut pepper, and only then some 'coastal peat'. It's quite typical of an older Caol Ila that doesn't really show its age, as we've noticed with those marvellous 30 or 40-year-olds that remain fresh as a daisy (watch this page). With water: magnificent, very fresh and elegant. Sweet liquorice, a touch of candied ginger but nothing too serious. Finish: moderately long, but with much more ash. Comments: I really do like it a lot when they don't over-boost their new 'special' releases with weird casks. Tequila in whisky, Not In My Name!
SGP:566 - 90 points.

In my opinion, seven is a perfect number when it comes to building line-ups (even randomly).


Caol Ila part two

Last time, it was G&M and especially the Distillery that took the spotlight. Let's see what happens today... Knowing that it is now understood that the latest vintages are absolutely no longer the "gentle peaty Islays" as described in the books.



Caol Ila 11 yo 2012/2023 (48%, Elixir, Single Malts of Scotland, 'Reserve Cask Parcel 11', refill butt)

Caol Ila 11 yo 2012/2023 (48%, Elixir, Single Malts of Scotland, 'Reserve Cask Parcel 11', refill butt) Four stars
This baby from four casks. These vintages should be pretty peatier… Colour: pale gold. Nose: we love this, mineral oils, lime, petroly Riesling, and that soft green walnut in the background. It's a very pure young Caol Ila, with a wonderfully discreet sherry influence. Mouth: precise, as they say, with perhaps a bit more sherry than on the nose, but it's in a fino style, taut, salty, with notes of walnuts and mustard. The rest is very classic, with just a little unexpected but lovely floral note of violet. Violet liquorice (Réglisse Florent) and a very slight earthy side. Finish: nice length, lots of elegance, a slight fattiness from the casks, salty petrol in the aftertaste. Comments: very, very lovely variant and perfect reduction, allowing us to leave the pipette or coffee spoon in the drawer. Yippee.
SGP:567 - 87 points.

Caol Ila 13 yo 2010/2023 (55.1%, Berry Bros. & Rudd, For France, Islay Selection, PX finish, cask #311746, 280 bottles)

Caol Ila 13 yo 2010/2023 (55.1%, Berry Bros. & Rudd, For France, Islay Selection, PX finish, cask #311746, 280 bottles) Four stars
Hope the PX won't have offset the tension. Colour: dark gold. Nose: the combination of Caol Ila and PX seems to have created a third dimension, with dried flowers, patchouli, leather, antique balm, and English cigarette tobacco (no more brand names, it'll come back to bite us someday. OK, untipped Benson red box). Then camphor balm and again, violet liquorice. It's very talkative, speaking a different language. With water: it becomes very medicinal. Lots of mint and eucalyptus, somewhere between toothpaste and cough syrup. Mouth (neat): the sweetness of the PX is obvious, beyond that we're moving towards something like a peated Macvin du Jura, with lots of leather and tobacco, leading to a rather formidable bitterness in the background. Genuine fermented gentian, not macerated. With water: raisins and bitter orange, with a bit of brine. Finish: long, quite bitter. Italian amaro, turmeric, nocino. Comments: quite thick, a bit mad. The bitters are spectacular, perhaps it was 'seco' PX?
SGP:476 - 85 points.

Caol Ila 14 yo 2008/2023 (57.9%, Rest & Be Thankful, LMDW, bourbon hogshead, cask #310760, 276 bottles)

Caol Ila 14 yo 2008/2023 (57.9%, Rest & Be Thankful, LMDW, bourbon hogshead, cask #310760, 276 bottles) Four stars
A series by fairly recent bottlers and brokers Fox Fitzgerald Ltd. Colour: white wine. Nose: totally the opposite of BB&R's, extremely taut, with new rubber, lanolin, bitter herbs, flint, and chalk, then oyster shells and a very mineral peat. Followed by ash and fish oil. With water: an abundance of freshly cut grass. Mouth (neat): it's really very good, with varnish, concentrated lemon juice, utterly unripe apple, and seawater. A bit for the masochists, but I count myself among them. With water: a lemon that sends vibrations down your spine. Finish: long, somewhat more classic, with plenty of ash and a bit of pine. Pine ash. Comments: it almost feels like it was matured in a plastic cask, maybe not even food-grade plastic. And that's precisely what we love about this rather extreme Caol Ila.
SGP:376 - 87 points.

Caol Ila 15 yo 2007/2022 (53.4%, Acla Selection, 10th Anniversary Series, Switzerland, cask #304989) Four stars and a half
Magnificent photograph of an owl or an eagle-owl by Claudio Gotsch on the label. The day AI can do that, we'll all have long perished from an excess of sugar or salt. Or both. Colour: very pale white wine. Nose: pure Caol Ila. Paraffin, ashes, smoke, lemon, crabs. Magical. With water: just a very well-bred Caol Ila (like the Swiss). Mouth (neat): absolute maritime purity. You almost feel like tiny fish might jump out of your glass. Green apple, lemon, vegetable oil, ashes, and oysters. With water: a bit of mint, eucalyptus, lime, green walnuts, green pepper… This greenness is admirable. Finish: very long, sharp, peppery. Comments: only the finish lacked just a touch of precision. Yes, we are picky. I love this Caol Ila that leaves lemon on your lips, another one I should have tasted much earlier.
SGP:467 - 89 points.

Caol Ila 10 yo 2013/2023 (48.2%, Signatory Vintage, Small Batch, Edition #4, sherry)

Caol Ila 10 yo 2013/2023 (48.2%, Signatory Vintage, Small Batch, Edition #4, sherry) Three stars and a half
'From Pitlochry to the World', as they say on the labels. A lovely nod, I must say, but it won't make us forget that heavily sherried peated whiskies are often a love-hate affair. Colour: amber. Nose: as expected. Flint, smoked figs, Bündnerfleisch, blood oranges, a just-extinguished pipe, touches of rubber (new tyre), fig leaves… Water isn't necessary. Well, it's up to you. Mouth: roasted chestnuts, slightly burnt chocolate cake, equally burnt orange cake, a mountain of ashes (tobacco, vegetal, charcoal) and bell pepper. Finish: long, smoky, with robusta coffee. American barbecue sauce, black pepper, and chocolate in the aftertaste. Comments: this rascal really shakes you up, there's a bit of a young mad dog feel to it. Not a parlour Caol Ila by any means, but I really like it.
SGP:576 - 84 points.

Another perspective on 'sherry', perhaps...

Caol Ila 12 yo 2011/2023 (56.2%, DH Global Wine, Connoisseurs Dram, 1st fill oloroso, cask #25643, 328 bottles)

Caol Ila 12 yo 2011/2023 (56.2%, DH Global Wine, Connoisseurs Dram, 1st fill oloroso, cask #25643, 328 bottles) Four stars
Colour: pale gold. Nose: here we have a tight, very clean Caol Ila that certainly doesn't scream 1st fill oloroso. Wet wool, apples, ashes from an old campfire, oyster shells, indeed a bit of green walnut… With water: not much change, just a hint of bread dough. Mouth (neat): this was a very, very well-behaved oloroso. Or perhaps it was ultra-speed seasoning with oloroso that had already met several new casks. Herbal spices, pencil shavings, lime liqueur, Jamaican rum… On the palate, it's a really unusual profile, but very lovely. Excellent concentration. With water: excellent now, with notes of walnuts, kippers, lime, herbs (sorrel, watercress), salty porridge enhanced with a lot of whisky… Finish: long, even more precise. This green wood aspect works very well, not sure where it comes from. More medicinal in the aftertaste. Comments: very lovely young herbaceous Caol Ila, quite different. Are you bringing the sushi?
SGP:376 - 87 points.

Good, an older one…

Caol Ila 30 yo 1993/2023 (52.6%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Artist #13, LMDW, refill bourbon hogshead, #53.461, 'Enthralling Elegance')

Caol Ila 30 yo 1993/2023 (52.6%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Artist #13, LMDW, refill bourbon hogshead, #53.461, 'Enthralling Elegance') Four stars
It's quite dreadful what they say—it seems that coming up with new names for the SMWS whiskies is so exhausting that they have to retire their creative folks every 100 casks. They're then usually found in the early morning, collapsed in some old gloomy alleys of Edinburgh. Colour: pale gold. Nose: the problem with Caol Ila is that it's an almost eternal spirit; I don't think we've ever tasted one that was truly tired. The downside is that they never really, exactly seem to age, and a thirty-year-old can appear to be fifteen or even ten. That's somewhat the case here, to be honest. Crabs, oysters, beach sand, ashes, pine needles, lemon and green apple, and wait, a few touches of exotic fruits indeed. Papaya and banana. With water: not much more. A bit of carbon paper and old magazines. Like National Geographic from the 1970s. Mouth (neat): anyway, 1993 was just yesterday. More seriously, you can sense an 'age-related transmutation', but more towards old manzanilla or dry Madeira. Grape seed oil. Very intriguing. With water: various oils, smoked fish, banana skin. One must be careful with water. Finish: good length, on smoked herbal teas. Lapsang souchong, apple peelings. Comments: the number one issue is water. Just like in the world, our friends at the Maclean Foundation might say. Very difficult to get a good result by adding just a drop or two.
SGP:564 - 87 points.

We did say that 7 was a good number, didn't we? So, stay tuned, see you...


Caol Ila part three

We told you there would be more.



Caol Ila 10 yo 2012/2023 (55.8%, Hogshead Imports, 1st fill Caroni barrel, 44 bottles)

Caol Ila 10 yo 2012/2023 (55.8%, Hogshead Imports, 1st fill Caroni barrel, 44 bottles) Five stars
Caol Ila and Caroni together—it's probably pure madness, and more likely to taste like diesel. Thankfully, there were only forty-four bottles. Colour: gold. Nose: by Vishnu and Wittgenstein, it actually works! And yes, it smells strongly of diesel. Then lemon, slightly old seawater (from the rocks at low tide), shellfish, engine oil... With water: old clothes, mothballs, lavender... Mouth (neat): honestly, it feels more like Caroni than Caol Ila. I'm not exaggerating. Of course, we love Caroni, apart from a few exceptions, but this is a bit disconcerting. With water: blimey, yes it works, even though it's very much like rum, with a delightful petrolic character. Finish: very long, very Caroni-esque. A bacterial side in a malt whisky is quite something special. Comments: are we sure this isn't a Caroni ex-Caol Ila barrel? Once again, I hate the idea but love the result. The two components match perfectly, no matter how you look at it. I'm almost ashamed of this score…
SGP:467 - 90 points.

Caol Ila 2012/2023 (55.6%, Spencer Collings, 50th Anniversary, Marsala cask, cask #SC57, 262 bottles)

Caol Ila 2012/2023 (55.6%, Spencer Collings, 50th Anniversary, Marsala cask, cask #SC57, 262 bottles) Three stars and a half
Lovely old-school labels, though I don't quite understand why Glenfiddich changed theirs (they've been rebranding non-stop in recent years). Anyway, let's move on… Colour: gold. Nose: we're really in old apple territory here, with cold ash, paraffin, shoe polish, lapsang souchong, and a very moderate amount of Italian raisins. With water: the style remains consistent, just with a bit more beeswax. Mouth (neat): yes, this works quite well, no clashes, but there's an old walnut wine and candle smoke character. With water: Caol Ila wins the fight and emerges first, like Daryl Hannah in 'Splash'. The fact is, the walnut aspect of Marsala pairs nicely with Caol Ila. Finish: the same, walnuts, smoke, leather… Comments: these are styles that work well (sherry, Madeira, Marsala) but can be a bit tiring. To be honest, I'd easily go for a second glass of natural or ex-bourbon Caol Ila, but absolutely never of a sherried Caol Ila (like). Unless it's an old Italian bottling…
SGP:566 - 84 points.

Well, if this wasn't predictable…

Caol Ila 15 yo (65.3%, Sestante, 75cl, +/-1985)

Caol Ila 15 yo (65.3%, Sestante, 75cl, +/-1985) Five stars
This is original Caol Ila, from before the distillery's reconstruction. Very likely a vintage from the late 1960s or early 1970s, and of course, from Gordon & MacPhail. Colour: white wine. Nose: immaculate, of absolute purity, with graphite, shellfish, sunflower oil, and pinewood ash. With water: sublime! Total purity, Malevich-like, white square on white background and all that. Mouth (neat): at over 65%, it's still vibrant, even after nearly forty years in the bottle. Ashes mixed with lemon juice, with just a hint of diesel fuel. A true bomb (well, not the best term given current events in this world… This planet should drink much more whisky, it would solve a lot of problems – agreed, and generate others.) With water: simply astounding, sublime, simple, ethereal, yet oily and massive. The finest lemon in the world, freshly squeezed. Finish: long, slightly mellowed, civilised, and waxy in the end. Comments: just incredible. It's a bit depressing to know it will never be bettered, they should display a bottle at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Certainly not at the MoMA, as the label is quite horrible. But they do say, ugly bottle, great whisky, don't they? Not so sure…
SGP:556 - 95 points.

Caol Ila 33 yo (44.5%, Hunter Laing, The Kinship, cask #HL20647, 300 bottles, 2023)

Caol Ila 33 yo (44.5%, Hunter Laing, The Kinship, cask #HL20647, 300 bottles, 2023) Five stars
One of the lovely bottles offered by Hunter Laing while waiting for the first Ardnahoe releases. True, Ardnahoe is now out, but we had yet to taste this old Caol Ila from last year. A neighbour! There was already a 33-year-old Kinship Caol Ila in 2017, which was very, very beautiful. Colour: white wine. Nose: we find the eternal youth of old Caol Ilas, starting with apple, putty, and fresh baguette. Then a bit of white wine (Chardonnay – they might soon plant some on Islay, even though the rainfall is rather excessive, ha). After that, we begin to find vegetable broth, shellfish, a few little pink olives, and a bit of shoe polish. Very lovely, not tired in the slightest. The peat is gentle. Mouth: again, it starts a bit rough, young, almost brutal (green pepper, brine), but then the softness sets in, with touches of oil paint, linseed oil, langoustines, crabs, and oysters, followed by a bit of lemon and white apple. Indeed, the peat here is of medium strength. Finish: quite long, with that slightly rustic character lingering in the background, if you will. It has retained some of its youth. Apart from that, apple, lemon, and finally the proverbial ashes, along with touches of varnish and leather. Comments: I would love to taste a 60 or 70-year-old Caol Ila one day; I would bet it would still be as youthful as ever.
SGP:565 - 90 points.

Caol Ila 11 yo 2012/2023 (57.9%, The Whisky Cellar, Pintail, pineau des Charentes cask finish, cask #12038, 659 bottles)

Caol Ila 11 yo 2012/2023 (57.9%, The Whisky Cellar, Pintail, pineau des Charentes cask finish, cask #12038, 659 bottles) Four stars
Pineau, right. It's worth noting that while they've got nothing to do with each other (pineau is fortified grape juice), pineau and Sauternes do share some traits once whisky's been aged in them. Pineau can be kept in wood for ages, while Sauternes is typically bottled after one to three years or a little more. Colour: straw. Nose: a hint of salted butter caramel but also a lot of peat and very ripe apples. Smoky tarte tatin is not far off. With water: a lovely balance between ripe apples and sultanas on one side, and a touch of gasoline, seawater, virgin wool, and rubber on the other. Mouth (neat): it's good, we know these casks work well with peat. A kind of salty and smoky apple juice. With water: no dissonance, the combination continues to work. Finish: pleasant, a bit more herbaceous. A touch of grape stalk. Comments: it's frankly good, whether this kind of finishing is really necessary or not. The pineau softens the peat.
SGP:656 - 85 points.

Cao Ila 9 yo 2015/2024 (55.2%, Dràm Mor, French oak oloroso hogshead finish, cask #302611, 288 bottles)

Caol Ila 9 yo 2015/2024 (55.2%, Dràm Mor, French oak oloroso hogshead finish, cask #302611, 288 bottles) Four stars
Good one, a hogshead, French oak and oloroso. That's high cask technology (not implying they were high when they came up with the concept, right). Oh, and 2015, that was just yesterday, right? Lady Gaga et al. Colour: gold. Nose: it seems to work, even though it's very spicy and rather green, with notes of bell peppers. Then comes chocolate and a few whiffs of a well-kept stable, horse saddle… With water: it smells a bit like moussaka, used engine oil, and vinyl. Yes, I know… Mouth (neat): wow, it works. Very powerful, with sharp smoke, leather, tobacco, pepper, bitter oranges, and green walnuts. With water: similar, with more bitter oranges. Now, does it still taste like Caol Ila? Not so sure… Finish: long, with bitter chocolate and green tea. Pepper and peat in the aftertaste. Comments: they're a bit annoying with these bizarre things that work so well (of course they are not, S.).
SGP:567 - 86 points.

We said seven per flight and we're only at six…

Caol Ila 30 yo 1991/2021 (48.4%, Douglas Laing, Xtra Old Particular, Black series, sherry hogshead, cask #DL 15245, 190 bottles)

Caol Ila 30 yo 1991/2021 (48.4%, Douglas Laing, Xtra Old Particular, Black series, sherry hogshead, cask #DL 15245, 190 bottles) Five stars
Colour: copper/mahogany. Nose: oh! A box of cigars, incense burning in an old Buddhist temple, bags of prunes and bags of Smyrna raisins, old Demerara rum, chocolate filled with blueberry jam, then a little teak oil and fresh-waxed old furniture. Some time ago we also used to say 'old Jag'. The old Demeraras are then coming to the front, that's splendid. Mouth: stunning tango. Very heavy cask, immense pineyness, and yet it all works. In truth it may be flawed technically, way too woody, but these essential oils, thyme, fir wood, rosemary, raw chocolate and green oranges just do the trick impressively in my book. Finish: long, still very piney, but this time with some thick honey and marmalade in the background. Black raisins. Comments: this old Caol Ila, full of wood and sherry, is a bit bonkers, but you just can't resist this style. Long live the flaws! (But are they really flaws? Good question …) A magnificent and very extreme bottle.
SGP:586 - 92 points.

We still have plenty of old splendours from Caol Ila, stay tuned!


Caol Ila part four and last

As long as we're in the groove…



Caol Ila 13 yo 2008/2022 (51%, Or Sileis, Amarone finish, cask #9068, 210 bottles)

Caol Ila 13 yo 2008/2022 (51%, Or Sileis, Amarone finish, cask #9068, 210 bottles) Two stars and a half
Oh, Amarone! I'll have a Calzone and a tiramisu, please, mister waiter… Colour: apricot. Nose: it's massive. Loads of toasted wood and cherry liqueur, plus fig leaves and a very vegetal smoke. It's quite extreme, but then again, with Amarone, one should have expected that. With water: rather better, on cedarwood, spruce, leather, and a hint of baked aubergine. Mouth (neat): harsh. Bitter cherry and black pepper. With water: the bitterness remains. Strongly infused black tea and still plenty of pepper. Finish: long, bitter, more amaro than Amarone (good one, well done, S.) Comments: well, that was our aperitif of the day (S., Amarone as an aperitif!?). I love the malts from Or Sileis in Taiwan, but this one was truly extreme. Amarone!
SGP:377 - 78 points.

We'll get back on track with the help of Palo Cortado…

Caol Ila 10 yo 2013/2023 (56.1%, James Eadie, for the UK, refill Palo Cortado hogshead finish, cask #306696, 315 bottles)

Caol Ila 10 yo 2013/2023 (56.1%, James Eadie, for the UK, refill Palo Cortado hogshead finish, cask #306696, 315 bottles) Four stars and a half
A nine-month finish. Remember, a Palo Cortado is a fino that's lost its flor/veil. It's not that far from amontillado, but the latter has usually kept its flor for much longer (as I understand it). Love both. Colour: white wine. Nose: it's taut, salty, chalky, and green apple-y. It's very beautiful, I find. With water: really like wet chalk, we love that, it feels like being in the Loire or Champagne. Mouth (neat): perfect, it doesn't exactly feel like a simple finishing. Salty notes, lemon, apple, green walnut, clay, green pepper. Nothing to complain about. With water: some touches of olives and pickles as well. Even better! Finish: long and very precise for a finishing. Comments: really superb. Are we sure this is just a finishing?
SGP:567 - 88 points.

So, who was talking about amontillado?

Caol Ila 10 yo 2013/2023 (55.3%, James Eadie, refill Amontillado hogshead finish, ask #306695, 306 bottles)

Caol Ila 10 yo 2013/2023 (55.3%, James Eadie, refill Amontillado hogshead finish, ask #306695, 306 bottles) Four stars
Nine months too. No need to explain the difference between Amontillado and Palo Cortado again, right? And will it make a difference in a young Caol Ila? Colour: white wine. Nose: it's more on the nutty side, indeed, with a more oloroso-like character, some bitter chocolate, mustard… But it remains salty, vibrant, and very pleasant. With water: very nice but less coastal, more lifted, fresh... Mouth (neat): very good, lemony, chocolaty, with a touch of lavender and a slight note of grenadine – but where does that come from? With water: a bit of cold coffee this time. Clove, a bit of zest, still some bitter chocolate... Finish: long, with a return of the old walnuts. Comments: excellent, it's just that I should have tried this one before the rather fabulous Palo Cortado.
SGP:557 - 86 points.

Caol Ila 12 yo 2011/2023 (58.1%, Signatory Vintage for Whisky Bibliothek, bourbon barrel, cask #310863, 200 bottles)

Caol Ila 12 yo 2011/2023 (58.1%, Signatory Vintage for Whisky Bibliothek, bourbon barrel, cask #310863, 200 bottles) Four stars and a half
Here we are back in Switzerland – and in Pitlochry, where they serve top Amarone, believe it or not. Colour: very pale white wine. Nose: immaculate, simple, straightforward. Green apples, langoustines, ashes, wet chalk. You can swap the langoustines for grey shrimp from the Belgian coast. With water: wood glue, lime, oysters from Loch Gruinart (to keep it local – not Swiss, mind you). Mouth (neat): a very powerful, salty, and smoky lemon. I'm not sure it should be tasted in this state. With water: there you go, high-precision chalkiness, saltiness, and lemon. A slight medicinal touch as well. Finish: long, like a true blade. Lemon, chalk, peat. Comments: it's almost in the realm of white rums (pot still and/or cane juice) or mezcals, just a bit softer. We can only think highly of it; it's a top distillate. A slight resemblance to young Lagavulin.
SGP:566 - 88 points.

Caol Ila 9 yo 2014/2023 (52.9%, Murray McDavid, Benchmark, Whisky in Leiden, Sauternes cask finish, 163 bottles)

Caol Ila 9 yo 2014/2023 (52.9%, Murray McDavid, Benchmark, Whisky in Leiden, Sauternes cask finish, 163 bottles) Three stars and a half
MMcD and their finishings… A love story. This Caol Ila comes straight from the Netherlands. Colour: gold. Nose: as we've said several times before, peat and Sauternes work if the proportions are respected. Still, I imagine all the old retired winemakers who probably don't even know their wines now end up this way… Very ripe apricots, quince, ashes, green pepper. It works. With water: the green pepper comes out, which is a bit less pleasant. Wet clay, that's nice. Mouth (neat): no problem, it's very good, these young Caol Ilas are powerful enough to resist the Sauternes when the atter's a bit boisterous. Even if we can't say it's a perfect harmony, it drinks very well, even if it becomes green and very spicy, perhaps due to the use of French oak. With water: rebalancing in progress, but the greenness remains. Finish: long, even more herbaceous. The sweet side of the Sauternes returns in the aftertaste. Comments: a bit of a cat-and-mouse game in this very young Caol Ila.
SGP:556 - 83 points.

Another 9 yo…

Caol Ila 9 yo 2014/2023 (56.7%, The Collaboration, Whisky Shop Neumarkt, refill hogshead, cask #COLC101, 296 bottles)

Caol Ila 9 yo 2014/2023 (56.7%, The Collaboration, Whisky Shop Neumarkt, refill hogshead, cask #COLC101, 296 bottles) Four stars and a half
Back to Switzerland for a young Caol Ila, likely much more natural. Couldn't they do a Rivella finish? Reto? Colour: pale gold. Nose: this one is oilier, with notes of sunflower oil, more paraffin, and since we're near the Alps, some mountain herbs. Including gentian, of course. The rest is classic: peat, oysters, ashes, a bit of vanilla… With water: pure young Caol Ila. No debate. Mouth (neat): powerful yet fresh, very lemony and very salty. Little lemons in brine and cigar ash. Oysters from the lake (yes, indeed…). With water: this is truly perfect young Caol Ila. No improbable wine getting in its way. Finish: a certain greenness, very taut. Green asparagus, perhaps. In any case, it's perfect, with these touches of butterscotch and amaretti in the aftertaste. Comments: not much to add, a little hogshead that did a super job.
SGP:557 - 88 points.

Perhaps one that's a little older…

Caol Ila 15 yo 2007/2023 (53.4%, Valinch & Mallet, sherry bota punta, cask #07322, 485 bottles)

Caol Ila 15 yo 2007/2023 (53.4%, Valinch & Mallet, sherry bota punta, cask #07322, 485 bottles) Five stars
Awesome art on the label, by Giuliano Sole (CRAG Gallery). A bota is a butt, obviously, and it seems this was a genuine very old solera cask. Colour: honey amber. Nose: it's a blend of honey, dried apricot, fairly discreet smoke, and blond tobacco, with an elegant salinity that asserts itself. It's a magnificent nose, not easy to describe. Old beeswax and figs. Very beautiful. With water: humus, pipe tobacco, oyster sauce, and above all, a lot of umami. Mouth (neat): magnificent old-style sherry. Sublime old walnuts, liquorice, touches of brandy, Corinthian raisins… This is definitely not a 'sherry' doctored in a 'whisky' bodega, not even a very commendable one – many are. With water: perfection. Walnut liqueur, seawater, miso soup, very dark raisins… Finish: alas! Comments: it speaks volumes and speaks loudly. I noticed it was bottled in 2023, but seriously, I would have guessed around 1985. This Caol Ila from a perfectly mature sherry cask is simply crazy.
SGP:567 - 91 points.

Of course, authentic solera casks have a great reputation and are very rare in whisky making, but the Scots also know that they are quite unpredictable. In other words, during maturation, they may take the lead, no matter what you do. Right, let's move on…

Caol Ila 36 yo 1984/2021 (53.9%, Gordon & MacPhail, Private Collection, refill American hogshead, cask #3629, 177 bottles)

Caol Ila 36 yo 1984/2021 (53.9%, Gordon & MacPhail, Private Collection, refill American hogshead, cask #3629, 177 bottles) Five stars
Wow, thirty-six years old, but we know that Caol Ila swallows the years like others do daiquiris, without wavering or faltering. Colour: gold. Nose: my God, the mirabelle plums! And the fir honey, gentle camphor, wild guava, milk chocolate from a grand Parisian house (or Swiss, or Belgian, or New York, or Tokyo… Take your pick). And we love these whiffs of church candles, it's our religious side. With water: beeswax, varnishes, then a certain greenness, with a very slight grassy and freshly cut hay aspect. Or grand green tea, you're right. Mouth (neat): sublime herbs, honeys, waxes, soft brines, equally soft olive oils (Provençal), then green apples, even greengages, with touches of metal polish. How has this beauty never crossed our path until now? With water: we bow down. Oils, waxes, varnishes, perhaps some slightly too herbal and resinous notes, but it remains sublime. Why keep fighting it? Finish: indeed, we surrender, as all the little signs of age emerge gracefully. A bit of cardboard, old sawdust, slightly faded waxes, slightly stale beer… All of this is so charming. Old mint liqueur in the aftertaste, an ideal finish. Gentle peat. Comments: marvellous. The attacks, in particular, are sublime. We're flirting with 93 points here.
SGP:565 - 92 points.

How about we quickly dive into another 1984? It almost feels like 1984 was a great vintage only for Caol Ila. And perhaps for Haut-Brion (there's still some left in the WF Cellars)… Oh and HP.

Caol Ila 35 yo 1984/2020 (47.5%, Golden Cask, bourbon barrel, cask #CM 260, 204 bottles)

Caol Ila 35 yo 1984/2020 (47.5%, Golden Cask, bourbon barrel, cask #CM 260, 204 bottles) Five stars
The improbability, or unlikeliness of this bottling is quite evident, but these kinds of bottles often have reputations that precede them (but what does that mean, S.?). Colour: pale gold. Nose: obviously zero vinous impact, one hundred percent malty and peaty barley, plus a myriad of micro-aromas, focusing on oils (sesame, sunflower, grape pips) and white, yellow, and green fruits. Gooseberries, greengages, yellow melon, nectarines… then buttery croissants and shortbread, plain or lemon, and candle wax. There's a certain austere beauty here. Mouth: boom, the peat leaps out, with lemon and seawater. This displays the main characteristic of Caol Ila, as we said and wrote before, in our opinion, this baby could just as well be 15 or 25 years old. Or 45. A petrolic and Riesling-like side that is highly pleasing (polish, rhubarb). Finish: medium length but perfect precision. Touches of grapefruit, tar, shellfish… And honey and mead in the aftertaste. The nectar of the gods. Comments: just perfect, even if G&M's continues to set the standard.
SGP:566 - 91 points.

I know, we're already at 9. One more and we'll declare this Caol Ila session finished. Happy Feis Ile everyone!

Caol Ila 24 yo 1974/1998 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection)

Caol Ila 24 yo 1974/1998 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection) Five stars
I remember that time very well when, visiting Italy, we'd find these bottles in fine grocery stores, nestled among extraordinary hams and jars of porcini mushrooms. And pasta, of course. Plus, the folks at W&M are delightful (cheers, Fabio), so I don't see how this could go wrong. Oh, and we love these civilised 46% vol. And 1974 is also the year of Rock 'n' Roll Animal. Colour: very pale white wine. Nose: forget it, it's perfect. Gentle brine, ashes, green apple, face creams, and vintage sun lotion (shea, monoi, coconut butter and all that). It's splendid but also quite nostalgic. Mouth: it has gained a lot of salty smoothness and ashy complexity since it was bottled. I remember, I had a bottle (Requiescat in pace). Finish: very good length, salty and oily complexity. A touch of fish oil. Comments: so, I've tasted this before, but that was over twenty years ago. Everything changes, including us, my friend.
SGP:555 - 91 points.

I almost feel like ending this Caol Ila cavalcade with a young one that's just been released, what do you think? Anyway, let me remind you that Caol Ila never ages; that's a new theorem.

Caol Ila 10 yo 2013/2024 (57.8%, James Eadie, for Italy, refill hogshead, cask #306690, 338 bottles)

Caol Ila 10 yo 2013/2024 (57.8%, James Eadie, for Italy, refill hogshead, cask #306690, 338 bottles) Four stars and a half
See, they don't just do finishings. Colour: pale white wine. Nose: but yes, of course, it's perfect. Many official bottlings tend to have more wood, more vanilla, whereas here we are in the absolute purity of the distillate, even if the cask hasn't been inactive. Seawater, apple liqueur, cider and ale, ashes. Perfectly perfect. It's almost boring how perfect it is (just kidding!). With water: fresh paint and ink. New magazine. Mouth (neat): perfect and total impact. Green pepper, ash, dry white wine, lime juice, varnish, cider, green walnut, sea salt, sunflower oil. With water: lemon juice, apple juice, brine, ashes, smoked fish, oysters. Finish: long, fairly oily, but precise, salty, smoky, with notes of bitter almonds. Comments: it's very beautiful. Caol Ila is a new make factory, but frankly, the juice is magnificent. One of the best Scottish distillates at present, how could one not buy a few bottles/magnums/pallets/casks of this magnificent 'industrial' juice?
SGP:667 - 88 points.

Thirty-two Caol Ilas in four sessions, those are good numbers. Shall we put together a little ranking? Anyway, it's the trend these days, no one publishes any content without adding a ranking—top cars, politicians, helicopters, cities in Italy, marijuana, Netflix series, gypsy guitarists, woollen underpants, assault rifles, distilleries…


Caol Ila 15 yo (65.3%, Sestante, 75cl, +/-1985) 

Caol Ila 30 yo 1991/2021 (48.4%, Douglas Laing, Xtra Old Particular, Black series, sherry hogshead, cask #DL 15245, 190 bottles)
Caol Ila 36 yo 1984/2021 (53.9%, Gordon & MacPhail, Private Collection, refill American hogshead, cask #3629, 177 bottles)

Caol Ila 15 yo 2007/2023 (53.4%, Valinch & Mallet, sherry bota punta, cask #07322, 485 bottles)
Caol Ila 24 yo 1974/1998 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection)
Caol Ila 35 yo 1984/2020 (47.5%, Golden Cask, bourbon barrel, cask #CM 260, 204 bottles)

Caol Ila 10 yo 2012/2023 (55.8%, Hogshead Imports, 1st fill Caroni barrel, 44 bottles)
Caol Ila 24 yo '175th Anniversary' (52.1%, OB, 3,000 bottles, 2021)
Caol Ila 33 yo (44.5%, Hunter Laing, The Kinship, cask #HL20647, 300 bottles, 2023)

These results demonstrate the sheer class of Caol Ila, the number of 90+ being particularly high; the average score should be too but we haven't done the maths. In any case, Caol Ila is in the same league as, say Ardbeg, Lagavulin or even Port Ellen in my book. Viva Caol Ila!


(With thanks to friends, Bioris, KC, Lars...)

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Caol Ila we've tasted so far


May 27, 2024


Feis Ile Special

A Short Vertical session of Port Ellen

The recent reconstruction and reopening of the quite sublime Port Ellen Distillery has, as expected, reignited the debate about the quality of the original Port Ellen whiskies, the real reasons behind the 1983 closure, and the necessity of some very long ageing – it is true that the 40-year-old or older whiskies we have tasted recently have been exceptionally high in quality.

High-ranking member of crew at Port Ellen Maltings,
2005 (WF Archive). Did they already know that
the distillery would be rebuilt one day?

For my part, I have always found the younger Port Ellens I have tasted to be excellent, including the straightforward 10-year-olds at 40% ABV from Signatory Vintage and their affiliated brands. The two Rare Malts, aged 20 and 22 years, had also effectively convinced me (they left you no choice), but as you know, the WF House spares no effort. Therefore, I propose we do another small vertical tasting of young Port Ellens, all versions we have never officially tasted before. Say four or five? Then let's do it, while I strongly doubt we will be able to do this again for a very long time (you'll tell me I said the same thing last time). Happy Feis Ile!



Port Ellen 12 yo (40%, Douglas Murdoch & Co., +/-1992)

Port Ellen 12 yo (40%, Douglas Murdoch & Co., +/-1992) Five stars
We adored the 13-year-old at 40% vol (WF 91), which was a 1979. No vintage on this one, but it was certainly a version that predated the era when everyone started to take an interest in Port Ellen. So, we'll taste this one casually. Colour: white wine. Nose: magnificent, in the spirit of some G&M CC, with a kind of tenderness but no caramel immediately detectable. Wonderful notes of lamp oil, an old shipwreck, sweet brine, then ink, old books, and the interior of an old 1960s car. Not a Rolls, more like a little Renault with a mix of leatherette, various plastics, and years of accumulated cigarette smoke. Remember? Not so long ago, one might have also said a Parisian taxi. Then, finally, anchovies in brine. Mouth: it's fantastic, and not as weak as one might have expected, though you almost want to redistill it to bring it up to 50% vol. Or has anyone ever tried adding neutral medicinal alcohol to boost the strength of a spirit? Not me. Sardines, oysters, tar, old papers, grapefruit, smoked oysters… Finish: medium length but perfect salinity and a maritime tarry side that has become very complex. Comments: we expected a little less, but in truth it's just totally adorable. One day, we'll find out more about 'Douglas Murdoch'.
SGP:466 - 92 points.

Port Ellen 13 yo 1983/1996 (43%, Istituto Enologico Italiana SpA, Verona)

Port Ellen 13 yo 1983/1996 (43%, Istituto Enologico Italiano SpA, Verona) Five stars
It says Istituto but I suppose that's a charming typo. The old distillery's last few months of existence, possibly the best according to tasters, but this at a young age. Rare and very interesting, to say the least… Colour: white wine. Nose: incredibly tense but gently tarry, with touches of almond milk and pistachio, again anchovies in brine, sweet liquorice, then turpentine, linseed oil, oil paint tubes… In short, the workshop of an artist (not someone who just uses spray paint and stencils, mind you). Mouth: oily, massive, seeming, let's say 48% vol, more brutal than the Murdoch, rougher, wilder. There's still glue and varnish, after all these years! Otherwise salt and lemon, some notes of tinned mackerel, and of course the proverbial tarry side. The palate is a tiny bit below this time, but it remains superb. Finish: not very long, but it has a slight Jamaican rum side that is very, very lovely. There are even little notes of banana and pineapple. Comments: a fine selection from the famous oenological institute, which is actually a wine and spirits shop in Verona, located in a large Renaissance cellar. Over 2,000 references, I think we'll go for a visit, though I doubt we'll find a bottle of this magnificent young Port Ellen there.
SGP:565 - 91 points.

We have another 1983, aged 13 years, but this time it's cask strength...

Port Ellen 13 yo 1983/1996 (57.2%, The Cooper's Choice, Vintage Malt Whisky Co., VA.MA, Italy)

Port Ellen 13 yo 1983/1996 (57.2%, The Cooper's Choice, Vintage Malt Whisky Co., VA.MA, Italy) Five stars
The Cooper's Choice has produced some real gems, especially for Italy. Port Ellen, Coal Ila, Lagavulin… In short, a matter of top-level contracts. We used to love trying to hunt down these bottles in the trattorias… Colour: very pale white wine. Nose: it's still powerful, rather without any actual cask influence, more on linseed oil, printer's ink and even more rubber than usual – if one can speak of 'usual'. New Wellingtons, garden hose, new tyre… With water: carbon, graphite, carbolineum. Mouth (neat): well, imagine this. You blend young Caol Ila and young Lagavulin, 50/50. You add a few drops of lime juice (forget the daiquiris), then let a dozen rubber bracelets macerate in it for a few days. And there you have it; the rest was already in the Caol Ila and Lagavulin. With water: of great beauty, on tar, seawater, sweeter lemon and clams. Finish: extraordinary, with perfect coherence. Comments: an entire ocean in your glass, including shipwrecks and oil spills from the past. Diabolical.
SGP:666 - 93 points.

Let's move on to a 15-year-old...

Port Ellen 15 yo 1981/1996 (62%, Glen Scoma, Germany)

Port Ellen 15 yo 1981/1996 (62%, Glen Scoma, Germany) Five stars
Just like some funny ones by WM Cadenhead's at that time and later on, this one was 'matured in oak wood' according to the label. Nowadays, they would say 'aged for 13 years in second-fill American oak bourbon barrels from the Ozarks that previously contained Pappy Van Winkle, then finished for twenty-two months in a Spanish Galician oak butt seasoned with oloroso sherry from Bodega Tradicion.' Glen Scoma was a range from Scoma, one of the oldest and most reputable whisky merchants in Germany; I think they are based in Lower Saxony. Colour: pale gold. Nose: perhaps the most lemony so far, also the most herbal (cut cactus, grass, zest) and the most on high-quality green teas. Touches of varnish and petrol as usual, chalk, but little tar or rubber this time. So, no burnt tyres, but at 62% vol. the profiles can be very different, or blocked, let's see… With water: no, little change. Clay, fresh bread, lanolin, melted candle… Mouth (neat): it's truly distinctive, with an unusual fruitiness, reminiscent of Mexican sweets (that's what comes to mind) and, above all, a lot of shellfish and other seafood. It feels like tasting cockles and razor clams drizzled with lemon and garlic. Surprising and excellent. With water: more classic but we stay very close to fresh bread. Fresh bread that might have been smoked with beech wood or something like that. Finish: long, more saline, waxy… Comments: at these high strengths you need a lot of water and a top-notch pipette to find the ideal balance.
SGP:566 - 90 points.

Another 15 years…

Port Ellen 15 yo 1981/1996 (62.6%, The Whisky Connoisseur, Cask Master Selection No.3, cask #1391)

Port Ellen 15 yo 1981/1996 (62.6%, The Whisky Connoisseur, Cask Master Selection No.3, cask #1391) Five stars
Once again, the absence of filtration is advertised on the bottle but there is no mention of the type of cask. Was that even mentioned in the distillery books? We know many distilleries were keeping perfect records in the late 19th century already, but we've also met engaging old managers who used to not care much around the year 2000. Basically, according to them there were only two types of casks in the whisky business, 'European wood' and 'American wood'. As for The Whisky Connoisseur, they have become famous for their incredible Largiemeanochs (Bowmore). They were often bottling malts under alternative names, perhaps to pique the interest of early collectors, and they were also producing many miniatures and selling through mail order. Colour: white wine. Nose: very close to the Glen Scoma, it's probably a sister cask, but this one is more on varnish, acetone… Nevertheless, it is absolutely superb and very distinguished. Very fine notes of almond milk and orgeat syrup. With water: wet chalk with lemon juice and a touch of salted and smoked fish. Plus those famous notes of new tweed in a tweed shop (obviously, S.). Mouth (neat): oily, powerful, very peaty this time with lots of salted citrus and even a hint of mezcal. With water: superb salinity, grapefruits, green apples, chalk, paraffin… Finish: long, a bit more 'normal', with even a bit of fresh barley peeking through. A touch of tar and, ta-dah, limoncello. Comments: it's truly superbly superb. Magnificent tension, we are once again in the territory of the greatest white wines.
SGP:566 - 92 points.

It is quite clear that one cannot simply taste ten, a hundred, or even five hundred single casks from a distillery and declare that the overall production level was superlative. By definition, at that time, only the best casks were supposed to be selected for bottling, amidst the vast stocks intended entirely for blending. In the meantime, and apart from a few slightly failed finishings, it doesn't seem to me that I have ever tasted a truly disappointing Port Ellen, either old, middle age or young. . However, we could now add one or two older PEs, but some that were not yet sold during a period when the distillery had truly acquired its total cult status. In other words, still somewhat "normal" Port Ellens, bottled in the early to mid 2000s... Let's dig…

Port Ellen 27 yo 1978/2006 (54.8%, Douglas Laing, Platinum Selection, Old & Rare, sherry, 396 bottles)

Port Ellen 27 yo 1978/2006 (54.8%, Douglas Laing, Platinum Selection, Old & Rare, sherry, 396 bottles) Five stars
They had quite a few stunning Port Ellens at Douglas Laing, especially some exceptional 'sherry' versions. They still do, eat Hunter Laing's too, but of course, the stocks must have dwindled like snow in the sun. This is a full sherry cask maturation we have here. Colour: dark gold. Nose: we know that peat and sherry can clash, but here there's no messing about, even if new aromas are created, unknown in both Islay's cleaner peated whiskies and in true sherry. Lots of dried meats, biltong, some curiously fruity tar with cherry notes, and above all, incredible old balms and ointments full of camphor, menthol, eucalyptus, and something indefinable. Fumitory, burdock, restharrow, gentian… Those sorts of things. A formidable aromatic territory. With water: very old balsamic vinegar from Modena. In short, it's a Ferrari of malt whisky (pff, too easy, S.) Mouth (neat): it's extreme. An old palo cortado VORS that someone has smoked with diesel, fir wood, and peat. This PE is a bit mad. With water: the old palo cortado returns, with tons of bitter elements, wood, bitter vegetables, roots, Italian bitters… It reminds me a bit of sipping Underberg neat, but of course, we're not in the same league. I love these punchy but nevertheless quite rock and roll bitters. Finish: extremely long, almost eternal. Lots of paraffin in the aftertaste, we almost touch a very, very light soapy and leathery note, which is more amusing than annoying. Comments: just sublime, as expected.
SGP:667 - 93 points.

Well, I hadn't planned to go this far, but since we're here, let's have one last one from a rare vintage...

Port Ellen 30 yo 1975/2005 (56.9%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength, hogshead, cask #159, 206 bottles)

Port Ellen 30 yo 1975/2005 (56.9%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength, hogshead, cask #159, 206 bottles) Five stars
I've tasted barely ten 1975s (I mean PEs) over the years, it's indeed a very rare vintage. What to say, except that it was the period when the new Caol Ila was coming online, Brora was in good shape, and the demand for heavily peated malts from the group's blend brands, including Johnnie Walker, was being met again, at least in theory. Note that this was also the time when Port Ellen Maltings had just been completed the previous year. Colour: pale gold. Nose: indeed, this seems to be a lighter, fruitier PE (citrus, green apples) but also a very dynamic one due to that fresh and zesty fruitiness. It's like fine lace, with touches of fresh sugar cane juice and honeysuckle. Smoked almonds. A very distinguished and precise Port Ellen, we could say. With water: citrus, fresh mint, seawater, very, very discreet rubber. Mouth (neat): indeed, a different style, very lively, lemony, brimming with fresh herbs including wild bear garlic. Then magnificent leather and tobacco, fir honeydew, lime… It almost feels like biting into some physalis. Touches of small shellfish and slightly overripe plums after that. It's smoky, of course, but not overwhelmingly so. Very delicate for a Port Ellen. With water: a real marvel. Almonds, Oolong tea, smoked salmon, and there it is, a bit of coal tar and mineral oil. Finish: quite long but still rather delicate. A slight impression of cork in the aftertaste, but I'm sure that's not that, let's call it a herbal tension. Comments: I think one might also have mistaken it for an Ardbeg of the same vintage or nearby vintages. Yes, honestly. It's a great whisky.
SGP:566 - 93 points.

Some real grouped fire today, but I'm absolutely not surprised. Very pleased with this little vertical tasting of 12 to 30-year-olds. Happy Feis Ile!

(Mucho gracias Basti, Geert, KC and friends)

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Port Ellen we've tasted so far


May 26, 2024


Crazy Rums without any silly aperitifs

Tres Hombres

The schooner brigantine 'Tres Hombres' (France-Antilles Guadeloupe)


We continue our exploration of the rum world, where we're starting to see more finishings, particularly in wine casks but also in barrels that previously held stronger-flavoured rums. One could imagine Barcelo or Bacardi finished in a Caroni or Jamaican cask (no, no, that's a bad idea!). In any case, rum is following malt whisky in this regard, though it's unclear if these in-cask blends, as we say at Habitation Whiskyfun, are always a good idea. Of course, these barrels used for the finishing process are never 'wet' and are always carefully rinsed of their previous contents, as required by etiquette and sometimes by law. Naturally! So, let's find an aperitif, avoiding any overly sweet molasses bombs this time...



Saint James 'Cuvée 1765' (42%, OB, Martinique, agricole, +/-2015)

Saint James 'Cuvée 1765' (42%, OB, Martinique, agricole, +/-2015) Four stars
A young cuvée crafted to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Saint James, presented in a lovely bottle. It seems it is still offered to enthusiasts. We hold Saint James in high regard. There, that's said. Colour: yellow gold. Nose: full of yellow flowers (dandelion, buttercup), very ripe mango, and some camphorated, even medicinal touches (balms, bandages). Then come avalanches of fruit candies of all sorts. It's very, very seductive and easy. Mouth: it really seems like there's a bit of peat, which is amusing. Yet I am sure there isn't any. The rest combines ripe banana, pineapple, a touch of saltiness, toasted brioche, and maple syrup. Finish: medium length, more on cocoa powder and roasted pineapple. This slight sensation of medicinal, coastal peat lingers in the aftertaste. Definitely... Comments: a few more watts would have been welcome but it's still a damn good juice, quite flattering but never vulgar.
SGP:642 - 85 points.

Père Labat 2018 'Sélection Les Frères de la Côte' (59%, Les Frères de la Côte, Marie-Galante, agricole, 760 bottles, 2022)

Père Labat 2018 'Sélection Les Frères de la Côte' (59%, Les Frères de la Côte, Marie-Galante, agricole, 760 bottles, 2022) Four stars
I remind you that Marie-Galante is part of Guadeloupe. This rum spent 4 years on the island, then crossed the Atlantic on a sailing ship, the Tres Hombres (nothing to do with ZZ Top), for 3 months (they took their time!), before resting for 2 months in mainland France. Ageing at sea has always fascinated people, ever since the Glenlivet 1899 'return from Australia' we tasted a few years ago with the BBC. Colour: gold. Nose: lots of ripe strawberries and freshly squeezed oranges, then tobacco, leather, and liquorice. Also, that very earthy side typical of the rums we greatly enjoy. But at this strength, we'll add water quickly. With water: damp earth and seaweed, then ground coffee after use. Mouth (neat): beautiful power, very fine fruity spices, cardamom, pink peppercorns, violet liqueur and lavender sweets, liquorice, and a salty edge like in Saint James… With water: the salinity becomes even more pronounced, as does the liquorice. Also, some flowers like borage. Finish: long, fresh, fruity, floral, and spicy all at once. Some notes of very ripe peach. Comments: in the end, it remains quite classic and very, very good despite its young age. They speak of 'dynamic ageing,' but this aspect remains difficult to identify during tasting (obviously).
SGP:552 - 86 points.

Since we're over there…

Clairin Vieux Vaval 8 yo 2015/2023 (51.8%, Velier, Haiti, First Release)

Clairin Vieux Vaval 8 yo 2015/2023 (51.8%, Velier, Haiti, First Release) Four stars and a half
From Distillerie Arawaks in Cavaillon, distilled from Madame Meuze cane juice. Not entirely certain about the casks they've used – there were two of them. I must admit, I'm not convinced that aged clairin is superior to the dazzling white ones. Colour: gold. Nose: an abundance of acetone, reminiscent of nail polish remover. It's doubtful that the maturation process has softened this spirit, which, in my opinion, is fantastic. There are amusing hints of aubergines, artichokes, turnips, potting soil, gherkins, and capers… With water: notes of Pattex and UHU glue. Mouth (neat): I'd say we're on safe ground here, as there's just as much varnish and even ammonia as in the white versions. Hurrah! Some green olives too, and a peculiar sensation akin to having chewed on a pair of wellingtons the previous evening. Best forgotten. With water: oh, splendid! Still plenty of glue and varnish, but now complemented by plums and exceedingly overripe bananas. You're correct, nearly rotting. Finish: very long, with a saltier, rather bacterial quality. And olives, always olives. Comments: s-u-c-c-e-s-s. Courage, poor Haiti!
SGP:563 - 88 points.

Clairin Vieux Casimir 8 yo 2015/2023 (53.6%, Velier, Haiti, First Release)

Clairin Vieux Casimir 8 yo 2015/2023 (53.6%, Velier, Haiti, First Release) Four stars and a half
From 'Hawaii' cane from terroir 'Baradères'. They've used two ex-malt whisky barrels, hope there was not much whisky influence – right, better none. Colour: pale gold. Nose: more around tar, tyres, capers, brand new scuba diving suits (useful in the Caribbean)… With water: a little gentler, with oils and butter. Sour wine, vinegar from Jerez, pinesap, cigar ashes… Even if it doesn't sound like it, it's fantastic. Mouth (neat): a little gentler here, but utterly perfect as far as balance is concerned. Salty olives and fruits, chutneys, tarmac; bananas… This one dazzles on your palate. With water: holy featherless crow! In truth, it tends to veer off course so to speak and becomes quite acetic, but isn't there a bit of a masochist in every aficionado of such spirits? Finish: long and once again more civilised. Pepper. Comments: I've found the trick; one must just avoid adding too much water. Admirable clairin.
SGP:563 - 89 points.

Off to Trinidad…

TDL 19 yo 2003/2022 (59.1%, Compagnie des Indes for The Auld Alliance, Trinidad, 280 bottles)

TDL 19 yo 2003/2022 (59.1%, Compagnie des Indes for The Auld Alliance, Trinidad, 280 bottles) Five stars
This should be a fruit bomb. We've had some terrific TDLs within recent months. Colour: deep gold. Nose: never was a spirit this fruity. Incredible peaches, pineapples, papayas, passion fruits, mangos, pears… Sniffs like a blend of Littlemill 1990, Cooley 1991, Lochside 1966 and Benriach 1976. It's almost evil. With water: the rum's elements now come through, natural rubber, liquorice, a bit of bagasse, a hint of lady's moisturiser… Mouth (neat): a fruit bomb once again. We can just add to the above list some Bowmore and Laphroaig from the 1960s. But is this really rum? Isn't it more like fortified mango juice? With water: fresh parsley and Thai basil join the parade of exotic fruits. Finish: long, with a great purity of fruit. Wonderful touches of coriander leaves – if you like coriander leaves, of course. Comments: mad fruitiness, there's almost an embarrassing side to it. I know what I'm meaning…
SGP:851 - 91 points.

Ewarton 17 yo 2005/2022 'WPL' (54.8%, Velier & Silver Seal, Cedro Series, Jamaica, 178 bottles)

Ewarton 17 yo 2005/2022 'WPL' (54.8%, Velier & Silver Seal, Cedro Series, Jamaica, 178 bottles) Four stars
This is a Worthy Park entirely aged at the distillery. Not too sure about what 'Ewarton' refers to, what we know is that 'WPL' means it's a very light marque (60-120 gr ester/HLPA). What's really interesting here is that 2005 was the first vintage of 'new Worthy Park', the distillery having previously remained silent for decades. Colour: gold. Nose: cedar shavings, hops, tangerines, incense, sandalwood, ripe papayas, cane honey, plasticine. And one small olive. With water: very lovely, midway between the world of fresh fruits and that of crazy esters (funk, as some friends say). In short, more incense, old Himalayan temple, red tea, and so on. Old clothes in an old wardrobe. Mouth (neat): once more, this is absolutely not 'light', but it is very acetic, with obvious notes of cider vinegar. Some pinot gris, quince, fruity-lighter varnish (acetate) in the background. With water: no need water, H2O slightly dismembers it, so to speak. Straight oak and big peppers coming out, the limits of exclusive tropical aging. Finish: long, on cocoa, bitter chocolate… Comments: nothing to add.
SGP:462 - 87 points.

Diamond (Port Mourant) 10 yo 2013/2023 (63.5%, Rock & Rhum, Guyana)

Diamond (Port Mourant) 10 yo 2013/2023 (63.5%, Rock & Rhum, Guyana) Four stars and a half
Got to love these wee French bottlers that write rum, 'rhum'. We've already tried an excellent variant at a lower strength (WF 88). Colour: pale white wine. Nose: lovely turpentine, bicycle inner tube, coal dust, cellulosic varnish, engine oil, smallest olives… With water: leatherette, carbon, small acidic apples. The ones you couldn't even distill, even if you added tons of sugar and bags of champagne yeast. Mouth (neat): awesomely pure, salty, briney and fantastically 'chemical'. Sounds odd but I know you know what I'm talking 'bout. This pure rooty liquorice is just as awesome, by the way. With water: waxes and ashes in all their guises. Lime juice and olive oil. Finish: long, tight, rubbery in a good way, a notch metallic as well. After all it's only ten. Comments: Port Mourant, one of the grandest distillates, thanks to the prehistoric distilling equipment. Innovation? You go first… Forgot to mention a Bowmore-y side – without the Aston Martin nonsense.
SGP:463 - 89 points.

Since we're there…

Port Mourant 2010/2022 (59%, Rum Nation, Guyana, sherry finish)

Port Mourant 2010/2022 (59%, Rum Nation, Guyana, sherry finish) Four stars and a half
The folks at Rum Nation in Italy are simply wonderful (there, this should earn us a half-pint of Moretti next time we meet). Colour: chardonnay. Nose: the sherry remains subtle, and that's that. Otherwise, it's a slightly gentler Port Mourant, more on vegetable oils, apples, papayas, with some cigar ashes and graphite, charcoal, pencils… With water: very lovely notes of white asparagus, which we adore! Mouth (neat): excellent, on tart apples, lemon, very green olive oil, liquorice wood… Really very good and more lemony than others. Don't tell me it's the sherry finish that's the guilty party… Or was it manzanilla? With water: saltier but still civilised. Perhaps a bit of walnut liqueur, and that's the sherry. No problem. Or perhaps our Italian friends added some Nocino from Modena while everyone was looking the other way. Finish: long but balanced. The green walnuts becomes evident. Comments: one could drink quite a lot of this. Hey, it's none of my business, but a nocino finish, why not?
SGP:463 – 88 points.

A last one for the road…

Caroni 25 yo 1997/2023 'Venus' (60.1%, Jack Tar, Cosmic Series, cask #81)

Caroni 25 yo 1997/2023 'Venus' (60.1%, Jack Tar, Cosmic Series, cask #81) Five stars
TBH, everything gets a little cosmic once you've got some good Caroni in your glass. What's terrible is that once you've heard the word 'Venus', you cannot not think of Shocking Blue – or yeah, or Banana-rama (good one S. You're fired). Colour: deep gold. Nose: no banana here; we are deeply entrenched in precious woods, associated varnishes, and furniture waxes. Rosewood, cigar humidor, cedar, thuja wood, old cask, old solera butt, cigar box… we are truly in these realms. With water: oh, how beautiful! An old Italian library crammed full of incunabula. Leather, waxes, old paper, parchment… Mouth (neat): totally exceptional. Mint, liquorice, verbena, camphor, litres of chartreuse, old French rancio, Spanish Malaga (obviously)… we are in international territory; it's not 'just rum'. The wood is very present, but since part of the ageing happened in old Europe, we stayed in more or less civilised territory (No stupid politics, we're talking about the climate). With water: some say that tropical ageing multiplies the maturation speed by three. This would mean that this Caroni, if it had been aged on-site, would be as tired and distorted as a 75-year-old rum. Can you imagine! But it is purely magical, poetry in a bottle. Sage and old ham. Finish: long, precious, very complex, moving towards a morel sauce with old sweet wine. Well played, I've made myself hungry. Comments: this is when you think of Botticelli's Venus Rising from the Sea, and you're about to be struck by Stendhal syndrome. Or almost that.
SGP:563 - 93 points.

Hard to stop there, come on, one last 25-year-old Caroni...

Caroni 25 yo 1997/2023 'Manta Ray Genesis' (60.4%, Silver Seal & East Asia Whisky Company, bourbon cask, cask #121)

Caroni 25 yo 1997/2023 'Manta Ray Genesis' (60.4%, Silver Seal & East Asia Whisky Company, bourbon cask, cask #121) Five stars
Colour: deep gold. Nose: good grief, it's almost the same rum! Still those varnishes, those waxes, those bananas, those very ripe plums, that camphory side... Let's speed things up. With water: cigars, cedarwood, pipe tobacco, dried apricots, old polish, old books... Mouth (neat): yes, it's the same. Mint, Chartreuse, liquorice, fino, green walnuts, nocino... I particularly recommend Silver Seal's nocino, by the way (and bam, another free half pint of Moretti down the hatch). With water: it's the same rum as the Jack Tar at this stage. Finding differences would be splitting hairs. Well, perhaps a little more rubber and lanolin in this little Silver Seal, but maybe not. Finish: very long, mentholated, liquoricy, with that raw ham and sage again. Raw ham and sage, but it's saltimbocca from Rome! Comments: to be honest, when I saw the name 'Manta Ray', I thought this rum was going to be a bit flat. Silly me. To be 100% honest, it is just a tiny tad less complex, less 'Botticellian' than the Jack Tar. Anyway, we're at a very, very high altitude in both cases.
SGP:563 - 92 points.

Still, the big surprise was the TDL. They need to be watched closely... Well then, see you next time!

More tasting notesCheck the index of all rums we've tasted so far


May 25, 2024



Feis Ile Special

Feis Ile, Lagavulin Day Special - Interview


"With one
or two exceptions,
I think it's very silly."

Today, we are republishing a little gem, an interview with Mike Nicolson that we first published on Malt Maniacs back in 2004, twenty years ago, which then quite quickly disappeared from the web, for reasons I can't quite recall.

I am often asked what has changed in the whisky world over the past twenty years. The industry would invariably respond that they have gained a better understanding of maturation and wood, which has enabled them to offer even better whiskies while realising that age ultimately doesn't matter much. Hmm.
In truth, I think that just reading this twenty-year-old interview, published here unchanged and, of course, with Mike's permission, will suffice to give a better answer to that question.
But who is Mike Nicolson? A former Distillery Manager of several entities, including Lagavulin where he also used to organise extraordinary blues concerts with his own band, Mike retired twenty years ago and moved to Vancouver Island, from where he had responded to this interview at the time. Since then, distillers from around the world have sought his immense talent and he remains active to this day.
I hope you enjoy reading or re-reading this old interview as much as I did, even though I now realise some of my questions were a bit silly! But Mike knows how to brilliantly answer even the most foolish questions, all while avoiding the automatic corporate language that unfortunately adorns 99% of interviews, making them seem or sound like mere PR pieces rewritten by ChatGPT...
(While you read this interview, you might also enjoy listening to Mike sing the blues and play the guitar with his band Michigan Curve, even though this album wasn't recorded in the old Malt Mill that time. I love it! You'll also find it on Spotify)

Lets go...



Mike Nicolson's interview

By Serge
December 18, 2004 (republished integrally May 25, 2024)


Trying to explain to you how I came to having a chat with one of the most malicious, most professional and remoter (to Scotland, no need to say) retired distillery managers and blues guitarist would be way too long and complicated, as were notably involved some 10-packs of French cigarettes, an ex-racoon, Ron Sexmith – the singer, the Oban lifeboat and Dr Nick Morgan, of Diageo fame. Yes, no less… But if you want to learn which colours you should never wear when visiting a distillery, why Lagavulin is magic or whether whisky is better today or not, please read on… And oh, by the way, please warn your family and your neighbours, you might well burst into laughter from time to time!


Q// Mike, you were the Manager at Blair Athol, Lagavulin and finally Lochnagar just before you retired. Were there other distilleries you've been working at?

Are you sitting comfortably?
Firstly, Caol Ila is missing from your list, which I had the privilege of Managing during my time on Islay and if you wanted to get me in trouble with Billy, Flora and the "Black Hand Gang", missing it out would be a good way of doing it. You don't want to get me in trouble, do you?
Prior to the places already mentioned, I was managing Glenkinchie but, that was a long time ago and it will be safe to drink now as all the stuff I made will have been consumed already.
In a junior management capacity, Linlithgow (St. Magdalene), Hillside (Glenesk), Linkwood and Muir of Ord.
There is another list of briefer working visits, dating back to the time when men walked in front of automobiles with red flags – Glen Albyn, Glen Mhor, Rosebank, Aultmore, Cardhu, The original Caol Ila, Dallas Dhu, Dalwhinnie, Benromach, Millburn, Teaninich and Glentauchers.

Q// Wow, there's almost only Mannochmore missing! I'd have loved to ask you a few questions about Loch Dhu… Anyway, what was the biggest change moving from Blair Athol to Lagavulin/Caol Ila and then to Lochnagar?

Well, the weather for a start. Snow &big floods, to a place so windy that on most days everyone has the same hairstyle, to more snow and Big hills and, the folks of course, always different, thank God.
For the technophobes: - distillation régimes and levels of technology. For the sociable: - the amount of interaction with the customers.
Blair Athol spirit character is such that it requires to be distilled rather quickly, Lagavulin on the other hand, has the longest and slowest spirit run that I have ever seen. At Lochnagar the object was to maintain a spirit character that would not normally be delivered by the design of the plant there. Tricky eh?
Blair Athol, when I spent time there, was technologically very sophisticated and energy efficient but the layout seemed to have been designed by a blind man having a bad day. The change from traditional mash house plant, at Lagavulin, to something a bit more up to date, happened during my tenure and, that is always a good time to find out how paranoid you actually are. The Lochnagar equipment is without a great deal of sophistication but as I suggested before, you have to sort of keep your eye on it.
One of the biggest changes in the business during my time, was the development of distilleries as educational and marketing tools which means, that Managers get to meet the customers face to face and learn stuff.
Blair Athol being sighted in a big tourist town, conducts its visitor facilities as you might expect, for large numbers, in support of its malt and as a key ingredient of it's well known associated blend, whose name escapes me for the moment. To run an enterprise of this nature requires a different Manager's skill set to be developed, for which he/she might find violent rages, formal executions, cross dressing and low standards of personal hygiene, to be fairly unhelpful.
Lagavulin, being sited where it is, means that not many people go there. It also means that a high proportion of those that do find their way there come by way of a pilgrimage, therefore paying the ultimate homage to the magic liquid. So, there you have it, lovely people, albeit pleasantly obsessed, bit of time to talk to them, occasional requests for the Manager's autograph or small fragments of his clothing, well, tough job huh?
Lochnagar, as home of the Malt Advocate Course (1), takes this personal interaction thing to another level. The Manager at that particular establishment, persuaded/ pushed/ordered/blackmailed by a Marketing department who, daily, have to be talked out of invading Poland, gets to tell people the truth about the mysteries of the production of some of the best Malt Whiskies around. Fortunately, he is assisted in this endeavour by an outstanding collection of "experts", some of whom have moustaches, large livers, wonderfully bad attitudes and are patrons of the Oxford Bar.
The job specification is an interesting read, involving sleep deprivation, a precise knowledge of the location of pharmacies and their opening hours, the ability to cope with anxiety levels similar to a crew member of Apollo Five and, being good at herding cats. The successful applicant will be rewarded by meeting lots of wonderful people from all over the World including, fellow employees, a large proportion of whom appear to be fundamentally disturbed and, additional reward is provided by being supported by the remarkable Distillery staff and, of course, Lucy (2).

Q// I must say Lagavulin really has a cult status. Are there specific reasons for that, except the fact that it's a great dram from Islay?

Yes, although that's a pretty fundamental exception, it's magic.
I dunno completely how it works, that people will name their children after the place but, it has drama.
Having spent four years watching winter storms, some of them in July, from that house on the point, it's something that you don't forget in a hurry.
History was normally something we read about when we wore short trousers but, it's not usually something you go to work in every day. Not that I ever was an avid history student but after just a little time there, you know that you are part of a community which has been there for a very, very long time indeed when you can walk over to the castle and see the remains of the sea gate, where the long ships were pulled up.
After that, you're into that continuum thing where you are reminded that life is short and that you are following on from those that went before, who made an exceptional spirit in that place, for generations.
Then of course there are the people that work there. They are similarly exceptional. Gentle, proud, funny, creative and too supportive of "White Settlers" like me, just passing through.
And the other good thing is, that they all have long memories so, you can hear the stories like," The mash house ghost" or, how Big Angus spent the Chairman's visit locked in a cupboard. Killer stuff. The place seems to have a propensity to attract eccentrics or perhaps it just provides the opportunity for them to flourish, like Sir Peter Mackie, a hugely successful entrepreneur but a nutter none the less.
So, like I said, I dunno, s'magic.

Q// Oh yes, the people! I remember last time I visited the distillery with a few other maniacs… Pinky was our guide, and he really made my day. Little man, huge personality! I guess you worked with him…

Pinky is a star. Vertically challenged he may be but ………….. He's big in Japan.

Q// It's not that I want to insist too much on Lagavulin, but the Lagavulin Distiller's Editions are excellent drams – the recent 1987 just won a Malt Maniacs Award - how do you feel about the wider spreading of the practice of 'finishes"?

With one or two exceptions, I think it's very silly.

Q// Well, at least that's a clear answer! So, apart  of these 'finishings', what's the biggest improvement in production since you started working?

The way my former employer encouraged Managers to treat the folks that make the liquids. When I started in the business as a young man, things got done because the boss said so, period. Thinking, most forms of creativity, and involvement out with your own discipline just didn't happen much. By the time I left the business the boys and girls "on the floor" were performing formerly management functions, bringing all of their individual skills to the benefit of the workplace, demanding involvement and decision making powers. A transformation and, from my point of view, as a Manager, a delight.

Q// I see. And what's the piece of 'tradition' you regret has disappeared since you started working?

Flogging the employees and the Manager's right to the local virgins, yeah, it was bad when that went.

Q// Oh, so what I heard wasn't just a rumour! ;-) But 'technically' speaking? I mean, direct-fired stills, European casks, open-air worm condensers… You know, the anoraks like us will always suspect the industry is trashing tradition to make more profit. Maybe it's a myth, and whisky's actually better nowadays than it used to be…

Christ Serge, an interview was ok but if you want a book, I might need a little lie down first.

Personally, I believe that it's pretty plain that whisky today is better than it used to be.

If you started a business, today, that involved hundreds of geographically scattered entrepreneur types doing their own thing with limited education, low levels of technology, poor communication and no minimum quality standards and where everywhere was a long walk to the pub, I would be surprised if your expectation of success would be great. If you look back to the first time it became generally commercially "visible", it was drunk, often, as a "cordial" i.e. it was so bad, that you had to put stuff in it to get it down your neck.

And what happened? Well, progress. Science happened. People got smarter, experience and communication developed, folks got organized, sometimes even into these contemptible things called "companies". Someone wrote down some rules. Blenders happened. Customers (markets) happened. Everybody sobered up.
As far as change, improvement and innovation are concerned, those have been intrinsic parts of the business since it became one, this is not something new that just snuck up on us. Look at the grain still for instance, without which we wouldn't be having this nice chat because the business would have gone to the wall round about 1890. The key of course, is not change but, responsible change. I can't speak for other Corporations but, the one I used to work for seemed to understand what most of the good bits are, like what whiskies do you make? Why do they taste the way they do? How do you consistently keep them like that? And, where do they fit in the business? If you know this stuff then there are some areas, product quality for instance, where your attitude to change is going to be and, I know this is a relative word, conservative. I would like to tell you that I enjoyed all the change that came my way, and yes every organization has a percentage of wild eyed, master of the universe types that would "sort out" the business by making all Scotland's malt whisky at one giant distillery just outside Paisley but, if you know what the good bits are, then there is usually someone around to make sure that these people are properly medicated.
I know that when they showed up tomorrow, the film crew that is, that they would be thrilled if they found everyone wearing wooden shoes, working by paraffin lamps with hacking coughs, missing digits and Franz and List but, maybe it's not a bad thing that we left that behind. At this point I should declare a vested interest. The whisky business has fed three generations of my family, some of whom were/are Romantics, so, this change stuff has actually been pretty good for the Nicolsons.
(Author's note :-) Nicolson, small and historically insignificant bunch, more of a gang than a clan, quite content to be continually bossed about by the MacLeods, apparently, you know, fetching their slippers, that sort of thing. After two thousand years of hanging about, they finally do show up to fight. Where? Culloden. (Nice going boys.)
Anyway Serge, at the next Maniac's convention, gimmie a call when you all go down to the beach with your forks, I could make some serious money from that kind of photo opportunity.

Q// It's true that there is clearly a debate between the maltheads who like a little mystique and the ones who think we should stick to the proven facts, what are your ideas?

Well, what's to argue about? They're both right.
With a History stretching over many hundreds of years making a product that remains an intrinsic part of Scottish culture and therefore, with thousands of stories to tell, it would be a bit dumb not to take advantage of our good fortune and use some of them. By dint of our inheritance though, making them up would render one as uncool as it was possible to be. Nor do I think that to convincingly use the romance that surrounds our product, one has to act like some backward Scottish hayseed, dressed like an advertisement for shortbread. Remember the Gospel according to Dr. Morgan (3), Chapter fourteen, Verse nine, "Customers want to buy a real product, made in real places, by real people".
Yea, verily.
Now, the facts. The first thing to remember is, that often in spite of appearances to the contrary, whiskypersons don't know everything. Compared to our forefathers, we know tons but, happily, the product is so complicated that we will all be a long time dead, for example, before the last mysteries of maturation have been unravelled.
A lot of the reason for this conflict is the producers' fault. In days gone by, before we knew what we know now, marketers would tell the customers what they thought the customers wanted to hear. The surprise, that there may be other reasons for individual spirit character, other than the magic Scottish water or that the stillman is left handed and wears a kilt, is therefore, kinda understandable.
The fact is, that not only do the producers now know more but, so do their customers. Bit of catching up to do I think?
Me? I'm in the romantic truth camp.

Q// Yes, but some people within the industry clearly get puzzled by these anoraks (us!) who want to know a little more than what's written in the ads. What do you think?

I wouldn't worry about it if I were you; the industry is full of people who are easily puzzled.
After all they were puzzled by gravity, the internal combustion engine, non-refillable fitments, how m&m's don't melt in your hand, that that really is Dave Broom's own hair, the tooth fairy and, like the rest of us, the fact that Keef is still with us.
Personally, I like anoraks, inquisitive, challenging, good for the grey matter.
Mind you, I might have to re-evaluate my position if my daughter brought one home. No, on reflection, that would probably be better than the procession of Neanderthals she seems to be specialising in at the moment. After all, anoraks have mastered the art of walking, communicate above the level of a grunt and most of them don't drool.
If I have one teeny weeny criticism, it's that in their relentless and all-consuming thirst for anorak knowledge, sometimes, they can take their eye off the ball.
Like caramel for instance. (Don't mail me Germany, I'm not in.)
Oh and the other thing is, and this is a bit delicate, couldn't we get them to dress a bit better? I mean, come on folks, it's actually ok to wear socks and even Martha Stewart thinks that yellow and orange don't go together.

Q// He he he, I really understand. It happens often that when visiting a distillery with some other maltheads, I feel I should say to the guide 'Look, I'm not with them, I promise!' Now, what puzzles me even more is seeing some guys visiting, say Lagavulin with an Ardbeg sweater, a Bruichladdich baseball cap and a pair of Laphroaig socksNow, can you tell us how was life on Islay and why did you move to Canada? Any similarities?

Life on Islay was engaging. Special place. Lovely people, big sense of "togetherness" as opposed to that overused and much devalued word, "community". The invisible support network, that visitors would never see, was wonderful. Someone always knew the person who could help you with whatever the problem was, often, before you knew that you had a problem.
Why move to Canada? Well, public service really, so that my friend would have somewhere nice to come for his holidays.
Similarities?  Since I live on Vancouver Island, you have to get a ferry to get here. That is the only thing that is similar.
What are more noticeable are the differences, here's a list:-
There are roads here, not just a lot of corners joined together.
Nobody called "W" lives here.
The ferry crew was not trained at the Slobodan Milosevic School of customer care.
We got traffic lights.
The band goes on before midnight.
We got trees, lots of them. I mean more trees than you could shake a stick at, if you know what I mean. That's trees as far as the eye can f----ing see. We got trees in places other countries don't have trees. We're treed. Big time.
There is no Co-op.
The electricity stays on all the time.
If you get into a fight with a policeman, he will not come round the next day just to check that you are ok.

Q// Nick Morgan told me you're a blues guitarist extraordinaire, and it's true that some aficionados fondly remember your gigs on Islay, with your band. Do you know some other musicians who, like us, are whisky aficionados?

I would need to refer you to the huge but underestimated talent that is Mr. Adrian Byron Burns. Giant voice, astonishing guitar technique, cross genre repertoire, a Gentleman and, I feel sure, available for bookings in your area. Tell him Uncle Mike is looking for his ten percent. Adrian's label is Private Edition and never, never miss a live show.

Q// Great, I just listened to a few mp3s he did put on his website – in the 'CD' section. He's really excellent, thanks for the tip! Two last, short questions now, if you please… Do you remember your first dram?

Listen, I'm retired, I have trouble with yesterday

Q// Ah… and what's your favourite dram?

When did you stop beating your wife?

Q// Okay, okay, the one you dislike most, then?

The guy that plays cement mixer on Metallica's second last album. Wasn't that three questions?

Ha ha, I can see that even if some are now retired, they didn't lose too many of their 'corporate' reflexes, did they? Anyway, thanks a bunch, Mike, it's been a huge pleasure. I hope you'll come again and play the blues during the Islay Festival in the coming years!

(Mike Nicolson, Serge Valentin, December 18, 2004)



Footnotes added 2024

(1) Malts Advocates Course - an in-depth experiential training programme set up by the Diageo Malts team in 1998 for Diageo malt marketeers around the world, trade customers and writers, based at Royal Lochnagar.  Mike was the first host.  It was rolled out to distillery staff as 'Malt Advocates for Operators'.  Charlie Maclean and Dave Broom gave an independent point of view alongside Diageo experts such as Jim Beveridge and Neil Cochrane (both now retired).

(2) Lucy Pritchard - a long-serving member of the Diageo Malts team

(3) Dr Nick Morgan - formerly Global Marketing Director for Malts Whiskies at Diageo, now author and writer



A Little Lagavulin 16 just to Thank Mike

We'll just add a little tasting note, a Lagavulin of course. We taste Lagavulin 16 almost every year; it's one of the few expressions we closely follow. However, we had never tried a 2016 batch, yet we had a bottle hidden at the back of a shelf... (really, any excuse will do). In any case, this spirit was probably distilled in 1999 or 2000, indeed under the guidance of Mike Nicolson.

Lagavulin 16 yo (43%, OB, +/- 2016)

Lagavulin 16 yo (43%, OB, +/- 2016) Five stars
One of those renowned malt expressions that 'never really stayed what they previously were' over the years, at least since 2000, if not earlier. But no! As Duke Ellington said, 'Things ain't what they used to be,' and this is evident in all areas. As we ourselves age, past versions seem to improve, but of course, it's mainly us who change, not so much the whiskies (well, maybe a little). "The older I get, the faster I was," said racing driver Stirling Moss. Anyway, for me and if I look back at all my notes, Lagavulin has remained a superb whisky, sometimes leaning a bit more towards the sherry side, other times more on the tar and natural rubber side (BDSM outfit, some less reputation-conscious friends would say). Colour: gold. Nose: bravo Mike and gang! It's perfect, fresh and precise, salty, with just a hint of coffee, black olives, mandarins, leather, tobacco, liquorice, and heathery earth… This is truly what one can call a classic. Mouth: perfect, one of the rare whiskies that holds the 43% ABV perfectly without ever feeling hollow. Anyway, Lagavulin is never hollow; you just need to carefully avoid those flavoured with rum or tequila, completely unnecessary and incomprehensible treatments – should we expect the worst in the coming years? What would Mike think? Sea water, salt, coffee, bay leaf, leather, olives, tar, and really a lot of peat… Finish: surprisingly long for its strength. Pepper, salt, Seville oranges, tobacco, liquorice, tar, leather… Comments: it's a shame, its price has gone up and it's found much less often in bars and restaurants. It used to be my go-to whisky in those places.
SGP: 567 - 90 points.

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Lagavulin we've tasted so far



May 24, 2024


Feis Ile Special

A small gang of Ardbeg, part 2

We continue, simply put... And we'll try to speed things up a bit compared to yesterday; one could write novels about certain Ardbegs. But that would be deadly...

One of the last casks filled by Allied/Laphroaig before
closure of the distillery and the sale of Ardbeg to
Glenmorangie the following year (WF Archive)



Islay Single Malt 14 yo 2009/2023 'Southern A' (50.2%, Maltbarn, 'Circles', bourbon cask)

Islay Single Malt 14 yo 2009/2023 'Southern A' (50.2%, Maltbarn, 'Circles', bourbon cask) Five stars
An 'A' in the south, what could that be? Ardenistiel? Islay's Ardmore? Wasn't there once an Ardtalla Distillery? Not too sure about the latter. Colour: white wine. Nose: we're close to the best batches of Ardbeg 'Ten', with a magnificent and quite sharp purity, on petrol, then rather massive doses of verbena liqueur, a bit of rubber and tar, hessian, polystyrene glue... In short, all those things we love. With water: crushed herbs, especially parsley. Then a new inner tube. Classic. Mouth (neat): a bit sweet at first (absinthe with its sugar), then more on citrus and pepper. And again, that smoky limoncello note. With water: all things coastal, salty and lemony come to the fore. Finish: long, tense, almost 'pointed'. Peppery lemon in the aftertaste. Comments: what a gentle beast! Of course, we love it…
SGP:667 - 90 points.

It's a real shame that one can only discover Ardbeg once in a lifetime. (Pointless comment, typical of this miserable website – Ed).

Kildalton 14 yo 2009/2023 (52.1%, DramCatcher, hogshead, cask #1102)

Kildalton 14 yo 2009/2023 (52.1%, DramCatcher, hogshead, cask #1102) Five stars
Colour: vin blanc. Colour: white wine. Nose: this is quite a gentle Ardbeg, even if the profile is similar to the previous one. Grapefruit syrup, ashes on the beach, followed by a more medicinal side. Old cough syrup, camphor balm, lemongrass... Then oysters. It's quite magnificent on the nose. With water: we find model glue and boat deck oil (teak oil). Mouth (neat): pure recent Ardbeg, lemon, smoke, ashes. Again, very much in the style of the best official 'Ten', not necessarily the first 'Introducing Ten Years Old', if that rings a bell. With water: isn't this an unadulterated official? Pepper, ashes, zest, brine. Finish: long and even more peppery. Comments: I adore it. Dior J'adore, Ardbeg I dig (that's pathetic, S.).
SGP:567 - 90 points.

These 2009s seem really top-notch, but let's be sure…

Kildalton 13 yo 2009/2023 (59.1%, SCSM, China, hogshead, cask #2116, 445 bottles)

Kildalton 13 yo 2009/2023 (59.1%, SCSM, China, hogshead, cask #2116, 445 bottles) Five stars
From the Chinese 'Single Cask Single Malt' crew. Colour: straw. Nose: an Ardbeg identical in every respect to the previous one. No complaints at all. Now, I'm not saying it's exactly the same whisky, of course, but in a double-blind tasting, they would be indistinguishable. Mouth: same comments apply, even the extra watts don't change much. It's excellent, with notes of lemon, ash, and smoke. With water, just to see how similar indeed it is to the previous one: well, it is. Perhaps it's just a tad more medicinal with a few additional touches of glue. Or not. Finish: the same, identical, thus excellent. Comments: I feel I should apologise to the excellent members of SCSM. Will they ever forgive me?
SGP:567 - 90 points.

Secret Islay 6 yo 2017/2023 (61.4%, Swell de Spirits, #2 Pop Intercaves, blended malt, France)

Secret Islay 6 yo 2017/2023 (61.4%, Swell de Spirits, #2 Pop Intercaves, blended malt, France) Four stars and a half
The thing is, even if the origins were truly secret, it's often quite clear which cask batches are hitting the market, and it only takes one to let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, for the origin of the whole lot to be revealed. Additionally, the term 'blended malt' is becoming increasingly controversial, as we've discussed before. Except for genuine blended malts, of course. Colour: white wine. Nose: it has the feeling of new make, but that's far from unpleasant. It's almost like it's been aged in concrete eggs, ha. Very pretty Williams pear eau-de-vie, smoked fish, fireplace ash, extinguished pipe, burnt pine wood... With water: the traditional chalk and virgin wool soaked in rainwater. And fresh bread. Mouth (neat): absolutely excellent. Peat, white agricole rum, mezcal, lemon juice, a touch of quinine... It's almost like an Islay white spirit. So, not really immature young Ardbeg, rather a young Ardbeg that was selected and grown so that it could be enjoyed at a very young age. It's quite superb. With water: still that smoked pear with peat. It would be amusing if fruit distillers started peating their products, there might be a market for that! You say it already exists??? Finish: this is where it falters a bit, as is almost always the case with very, very young whiskies. Essentially, it lacks a bit of polish, but that's to be expected. A full ashtray in the aftertaste. Comments: very spectacular, very good. I didn't have enough of it, but otherwise, I would have tried this baby in a mizuwari. Because we're not afraid of anything at Château
WF. SGP:657 - 88 points.

Right, enough with the young gangsters, let's try one or two old glories, just to put everything into perspective and 'recalibrate our benchmarks', as one might say if we wanted to appear serious...

Ardbeg 19 yo 1975/1995 (47.3%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection)

Ardbeg 19 yo 1975/1995 (47.3%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection) Five stars
We've never tried this one, but last year we sampled another from this series, a 75/95 at 51.8%, which was rather intergalactic (WF 94). Colour: pale gold. Nose: a different world. Cadenhead, in those blessed times, were offering undiluted malts in this series, meaning these 47.3% were, in theory at least, natural. Old turpentine and ancient paint pots, those famous tarry ropes, pine sawdust, notes of black garlic, new leather and old leather (not the same thing at all!), then citrus liqueurs, bone broth, old amontillado (whether there's a sherry influence or not)... What a nose! Mouth: here we rediscover the complexity of old malts whose strength has naturally declined. This one has lots of plasticine, beef fat, candied lemon, cooked whelks, camphor, old chartreuse, tar liqueur... This might not sound very coherent, but rest assured, it is in the glass. Finish: only medium in length, but it's the complexity that wins the day. If I dared, I'd mention mint sauce – English recipe, of course. And again, beef marrow and... black garlic! Lots of pine in the aftertaste. Comments: it might not have the punch of last year's bottling (I mean the '75 I tried last year), but what a beauty, even if it's a beauty that's a tiny bit 'worn' here and there. Well, you know what I mean.
SGP:476 - 92 points.

Ring ring, the last one for today, please…

Ardbeg 28 yo 1972/2000 (49.5%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 492 bottles)

Ardbeg 28 yo 1972/2000 (49.5%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 492 bottles) Five stars
Another seminal series and a bottle that doesn't even tell you what type of cask it came from. In those blessed times, the cask type was usually only mentioned if it was sherry, and even then, only if it was heavily sherried. Essentially, no one cared much about the cask type, and that was perfectly fine—they were distillers or maturers, not cabinetmakers or winemakers. Okay, I'll stop now... Colour: gold. Nose: the purity of those years! It is, or rather was, much more medicinal than modern Ardbegs, though not in the Laphroaig sense. Essentially, it's more tarry ointments rather than mercurochrome and bandages. The rest unfolds with new tyres à la Port Ellen, shellfish à la Caol Ila, engine oil and rubber à la Lagavulin, and smoked oysters à la Bowmore. Sorry, but no exotic fruits of any kind. Mouth: entirely on tar, bitter almonds, and a bit of burnt rubber. I had forgotten just how brutal and massive these Ardbegs could be, even at a relatively modest strength like this. Harsh ash, salted lemon liqueur, tars, forgotten balms (can't remember which ones), olive oil... In fact, these Ardbegs were really more about the whole experience rather than a sequence of aromas and flavours. In short, they were Ardbegs. Finish: sublimely Ardbeg. An incredible balance of pine resin, rubber, salt, smoke, lemon, and lapsang souchong. A tiny hint of passion fruit right at the end. Comments: there used to be some very fine people who were not liking this style at all, and frankly, we were understanding them. It's massive! But we still absolutely love it...
SGP:468 - 94 points.

In life, we always have the urge to criticise what we once loved, and this might be the case with distilleries like Macallan or Ardbeg, but when you have the right expressions in the glass, you have to be honest and admit that these are or were indeed damn good whiskies!

(Thank you KC, Edward and other crazy friends)

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Ardbeg we've tasted so far


May 23, 2024


Feis Ile Special

Alas! No Feis Ile for me this time again, but we were on Islay just a few weeks ago for the opening of the new Port Ellen. In any case, this won't stop us from tasting many Islay whiskies over the next few days, although not in sync with the official days of each distillery, of course. For instance, we'll start with some Ardbeg...

A small gang of Ardbegs, part 1

(Picture, Ardbeg during the time of modest and amusing marketing, in 2007 (WF Archive)


It's true that I've somewhat neglected our Islays lately, even though I thoroughly enjoyed the first Ardnahoe the other day. Rest assured, we'll make up for it in the coming days, starting with a few Ardbegs that we've been sitting on for a while. Not all of them are labelled 'Ardbeg', but there's no doubt about the origin of these small and great whiskies... Oh, and let's start with the worst aperitif imaginable, so that it serves as a lesson to us all...



Ardbeg 12 yo 'Special Reserve Bottled 1966' (80° proof, OB, 262/3 FL. OZS)

Ardbeg 12 yo 'Special Reserve Bottled 1966' (80° proof, OB, 262/3 FL. OZS) Four stars and a half
- FAKE. A lot of issues with this bottle. It features a red Italian tax band with two stars and '0.750', dating it between 1975 and 1991, which doesn't match 1966, although it's not conclusive proof as these bands could have been added later if these bottles had been then re-shipped to Italy after a few years. Additionally, there's a large D at the bottom of the label, used in France until around 1982, indicating duties were paid, but a French bottle would never display proof degrees or ounces. Moreover, the SC295 code on the glass base was produced post-1966, from 1968 onwards. There's also no mention of an importer, French or otherwise. Therefore, there are too many inconsistencies for this bottle to be genuine, but on the other hand, forgers often used young malts from G&M available at the time they made them, and those could be very good! So, this could very well be Ardbeg from 1972, 1973, or 1974, for example (but not at 80° proof UK, obviously). Finally, all genuine Ardbeg collectors assert that it's a fake, and frankly, that's enough for me. Anyway, let's try this very suspect Ardbeg for the cause... Colour: straw. Nose: from the bottle, which I hold in my hands, it smells unmistakably of Ardbeg from that era, with plenty of ashes and soot. However, in the glass, it flattens out rather quickly, moving towards smoked water, apple juice, caster sugar, and indeed, a bit of pine resin. Well, honestly, it gives an illusion, but certainly not at 80° proof, so nearly 46% ABV. But yes, it does smell like Ardbeg… Mouth: yes, typically a young Islay, not necessarily Ardbeg despite the acrid and very ashy character, somewhat sweet. Also a medicinal and salty side. It's quite good, actually. Finish: medium length, salty, with lemon, limoncello (you see, it's Italian made – hey, just joking!) and still plenty of smoke. Comments: really has a G&M CC vibe. I think it's an old fantasy fake, already quite aged, meant to adorn Italian collections for aesthetic purposes only, and probably not a recent fake aimed at scamming overly naïve aspiring speculators worldwide. But it's a very, very good Islay whisky and most possibly light Ardbeg indeed!
SGP:467 - 88 points.

Update: all these bottles of Ardbeg 12 'bottled 1966' may contain very different whiskies!

Ardbeg 'Anamorphic' (48.2%, OB, Committee Release, bourbon, 2023)

Ardbeg 'Anamorphic' (48.2%, OB, Committee Release, bourbon, 2023) Three stars and a half
These gimmicky bottlings aren't series we follow regularly, but since it's on our desk... Very late with this one indeed. I'm sure this one is genuine; no serious forger would have dared making such a bottle. It's about losing your head, so only NAS (boo) but fun (hurray). In any case, fat whiskies better lose their heads than their tails, I'm telling you. Colour: straw. Nose: the resemblance to the unfortunate 12 is evident, so it was indeed an Ardbeg. Ash, a bit of vanilla, chalk and slate, some sweets, charcoal, then curious slightly sour notes, reminiscent of hearts of palm or pickled baby artichokes. The custard then comes back to wrap it all up. Not bad. Mouth: a bit strange. Lemon Schweppes, Aperol, a little ginger, hints of silver spoon, a tiny touch of pineapple, perhaps from charred wood? Also some pink peppercorn chocolate, which isn't bad at all. Finish: rather short and a bit hesitant, it reminds me somewhat of Serendipity. Those odd pineapples return in the aftertaste. Comments: quite good but a bit undetermined. Reconstructed Ardbeg?
SGP:656 - 84 points.

Ardbeg 13 yo 'Anthology The Harpy's Tale' (46%, OB, 2023)

Ardbeg 13 yo 'Anthology The Harpy's Tale' (46%, OB, 2023) Four stars
A blend of Ardbeg ex-bourbon and Ardbeg ex-'sweet Sauternes'. Actually it doesn't make much sense to write about 'sweet Sauternes' having said that, all fresh Sauternes being sweet by definition. You can make dry white in the region, but then you cannot call it Sauternes. A good example is the superb 'Y' d'Yquem, which is a 'simple' Bordeaux. BTW Yquem and Ardbeg share the same owners, they would know. Right… Colour: pale gold. Nose: like! We know peat and Sauternes/Barsac can work very well, as we could already see at Kornog's and elsewhere. So no clashes, rather smoked mirabelles, peppered quinces and tarry apricots, plus some charcoal and seawater. A touch of cream cheese in the background, or gorgonzola, which is fun. Works well too. Mouth: very nice combo, even if the wine is very prominent. The thing is, good Sauternes is not a 'winey' wine. Also a lot of smoke, tar, coal, liquorice and just tonnes of ashes. I have the impression they've kept pushing the ashy side in recent years at Ardbeg, have they not? The combination keeps working very well, despite this slight, err, sweetness. Good integration. Finish: medium long, with good balance between, say the honeyed apricots and the tarry ashes. No feeling of a disjointed whisky. Some medicinal notes in the aftertaste, cough syrup… Comments: very good drop.
SGP:656 - 87 points.

Ardbeg 13 yo 2010/2023 (61.3%, OB, Private Single Cask, Second fill oloroso sherry butt, cask #1944, 578 bottles)

Ardbeg 13 yo 2010/2023 (61.3%, OB, Private Single Cask, Second fill oloroso sherry butt, cask #1944, 578 bottles) Five stars
Will this one be a kerosene-y 'beg, at this strength? Colour: full gold. Nose: the DNA is there, it's not been altered, there's a lot of crushed slate and charcoal mixed with seawater and a little green walnut wine. Touches of turpentine and linseed oil too, also root vegetables,  beets, parsnips, celeriac… We always love these. No signs of kerosene, by the way, or is it me? With water: bandages, stewed spinach (yep), hard-boiled eggs (no big S though), leaven, seaweed, beach sand at low tide, tarmac… Mouth (neat): great, just great. It makes me happy to try this little monster that, in truth, would take no prisoners. Rather a lot of green pepper too but water might be needed as early as now… With water: superb Ardbeg, with these perfect lemons that are roaming most versions of the 'Ten', with a much cleaner profile now that water's been added. Perfect tar, peppers, lemons indeed, pine and verbena liqueurs (they almost always work in tandem IMHO). Finish: long, with the ultimate signature, pink grapefruit. Comments: proof that whisky can be both complex and high-def. Perfect young Ardbeg, are they all like this one? Was it Mickey Heads?
SGP:657 - 92 points.

Well, I thought we were going to have magnificent independents that would totally crush the official NAS releases. Not too sure, let's move on...

Secret Islay 2009/2023 'They Inspired – Bert Vuik' (53.3%, Michiel Wigman, 'A Rare Dram But Extremely Good', sherry, 238 bottles)

Secret Islay 2009/2023 'They Inspired – Bert Vuik' (53.3%, Michiel Wigman, 'A Rare Dram But Extremely Good', sherry, 238 bottles) Five stars
An extraordinary person on the label (and another in the background). Undoubtedly the first true collector and connoisseur of Ardbeg, leaving absolutely no doubt about the origin of this little gem: it's Mannochmore (hey, we can have a laugh, can't we?) Cheers and hugs, Bert! Colour: white wine. Nose: forget the sherry, for now this is an extremely pure, precise Ardbeg, with a wonderful softness built around oil paint, shells, graphite, and fireplace ashes. With water: fresh country bread at five o'clock in the morning (okay, six) and a platter of Islay oysters, plus soaked virgin wool, Islay mud and certainly a good dose of lanolin. A hint of a new pullover. Mouth (neat): taut as a bow, lemony and brimming with ashes and green pepper. Could that be olive oil in the background? With water: proof that Ardbeg can indeed show a softer side. Very ripe apple, salt, more oysters, our friends the winkles, old paint, grapefruit… Finish: long and both oily and taut at the same time, which is unusual, I admit. Comments: just avoid adding too much water, and in this case, for me it easily scores...
SGP:667 - 92 points.

Islay Region 5 yo 2017/2023 (60.2%, Douglas Laing's Single Minded, for World of Whisky Waldhaus, Switzerland, refill barrel, cask #DL17749, 258 bottles)

Islay Region 5 yo 2017/2023 (60.2%, Douglas Laing's Single Minded, for World of Whisky Waldhaus, Switzerland, refill barrel, cask #DL17749, 258 bottles) Four stars
Two generations of Bernasconis on the label! Let's remember that the Waldhaus am See in St Moritz, Switzerland, houses one of the, if not the most famous and extensive whisky bars in the world. I take this opportunity to wish a fantastic birthday to the engaging Claudio Bernasconi, who celebrates his 70th this month! Of course, we have an Ardbeg in the glass, and I'm delighted, especially since it's rare to find one this young that isn't NAS and fiddled with using improbable casks and outlandish stories. Well, well… Colour: very pale white wine (Swiss wine, ha-ha just kidding). Nose: totally on ashes, wet flour, yeasts, and cider. With water: pure Ardbeg, acrid smoke, fireplace, campfire, old car exhaust pipe. It reminds me of those wonderful Swiss cars, the Monteverdis. Mouth (neat): if you've ever tasted Ardbeg's new make, it's a bit like that. It's admirable that the bottlers haven't tried to disguise it with improbable casks. Beautiful tension on lemons, the sea, bread dough, oysters, and smoked fish, it also almost feels, at times; like gin flavoured with peat smoke (yes, yes, that's a positive comment in this context). With water: back to a lemony, tarry, and salty new make. Finish: an avalanche of ashes. An ashtray after a Cigar Club meeting, if you see what I mean. Comments: if they have many casks like this one and if everyone has the patience to wait another twenty years, it's going to be magical. For now, it's magnificent but of course, a bit young, just like Mr. Claudio B.. An understatement. Come on, we love it…
SGP:568 - 87 points.

Kommunen Schnaps 'Vol. 6' (55.9%, Private, Garrison Brothers bourbon barrel, 90 bottles, 2024)

Kommunen Schnaps 'Vol. 6' (55.9%, Private, Garrison Brothers bourbon barrel, 90 bottles, 2024) Five stars
When you spot the Kildalton Cross on a label, rest assured it's not Glenkinchie. And if you see a VW Kombi, the bottler is either Californian or German. Colour: gold. Nose: it has the slightly rugged edge of the 2017, but there's also a soft coat of sweetness brought by the bourbon casks. This leads more towards medicinal syrups, herbal notes (juniper, pine needles), and bitter orange marmalade. There's still plenty of tar and, above all, those legendary 'tarry ropes'. With water: smoked marzipan and cigarette ashes! Mouth (neat): very compact, full-on with pine bud liqueur and fresh rubber, tar, and Corsican citron liqueur. It's massive and not very complicated, but it's very comforting, like an old Deep Purple track. 'Nobody gonna take my car, I'm gonna race it to the ground...' Yes, well... With water: now it's truly perfect. Wonderful notes of smoked and salted chocolate. You should try this. Finish: very long. Comments: this is a young, conquering Ardbeg. I fear it might be impossible to find, which is a shame because it ticks all the boxes. I love it and have always dreamed of owning a VW Kombi painted in psychedelic colours. You're right, a boomer's fantasy. Peace and Love!
SGP:567 - 90 points.

Kildalton 15 yo 2008/2023 (57.6%, Oxhead Whisky Company, sherry butt, cask #5530)

Kildalton 15 yo 2008/2023 (57.6%, Whiskynaut, sherry butt, cask #5530) Four stars and a half
It says 'since 1815' so it is either Laphroaig (year controversial) or Ardbeg (apparently nobody ever cared). The name 'Kildalton' should give it away, as I believe it is, indeed, officially Ardbeg's 'trade name'. Colour: straw. Nose: surprisingly lighter, more on herbal teas and yeasts, that famous old tweed jacket that has seen so many winters, fresh wool, roots (do wild carrots grow on Islay?), with a few touches of mild horseradish and gentian. 'Gentian' is a magical word at Château WF. With water: nature after the rain. Earth, plants, shrubs, beach, radishes... Mouth (neat): simply superb. Lemon, ashes, liquorice, celery, fresh walnut. Perfect texture. With water: younger, fresher, more fruity. Quinine, bitter orange, walnuts, I suppose that's the sherry talking. Who would complain? Finish: long, lively, almost cheerful for Ardbeg. A bit of glue and varnish in the aftertaste. Comments: a lovely dialogue between the malt and the sherry. Once again, go easy on the water.
SGP:576 - 89 points.

Well, I believe we'll be back tomorrow with more Ardbeg.

(Merci Logan, merci Patrick)

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Ardbeg we've tasted so far


May 22, 2024


WF's Little Duos, today indie sherried young Aberlour

It is one of the few distilleries where we taste many more official releases than independent bottlings. A bit like Lagavulin, really. Yet we'll have two indies today…

(Classic print ad from the 1970s. All malts were using more or less the same angles.)




Aberlour 12 yo 2012/2024 (48.2%, Signatory Vintage, Small Batch #9, 1st fill oloroso sherry butts)

Aberlour 12 yo 2012/2024 (48.2%, Signatory Vintage, Small Batch #9, 1st fill oloroso sherry butts) Four stars
A relatively recent series, seemingly well-regarded across various quarters. Colour: amber gold. Nose: classic sherry, walnut cake, dark ale, and a hint of molasses, followed by a generous array of dates and toffee. very well-balanced, excellently constructed around the sherry profile. Mouth: quite spicy at the outset, with notable ginger, nutmeg, and grey pepper… the toffee then gracefully joins in, accompanied by a sweeter sherry (noticeably sweeter than the usual oloroso). One cannot help but think of A'bunadh, but here there is a touch more citrus, featuring blood oranges and a hint of Szechuan pepper. Finish: fairly long, with a persistent woody and chocolatey character. a subtle café-kirsch note lingers in the aftertaste, adding a pleasant complexity. Comments: a rather spicy and fairly modern interpretation of an Aberlour 'sherry'. Nothing to fault, it certainly does the job.
SGP:551 - 85 points.

Aberlour 11 yo 2011/2022 (55.9%, Blackadder, Raw Cask, PX sherry cask, cask #22, 290 bottles)

Aberlour 11 yo 2011/2022 (55.9%, Blackadder, Raw Cask, PX sherry cask, cask #22, 290 bottles) Three stars and a half
Colour: dark gold. Nose: this expression is all about walnuts, mustard sauce, oxidation, Malaga, old figs, beef, and dried ham... It's pure sherry, which I greatly appreciate. Adding a few drops of water brings out a subtle earthy note. Think flowering plant soil, tobacco, leather, and a touch of umami... Mouth (neat): really quite Malaga! Raisins and mustard, a cascade of nuts (both old and fresh), and an abundance of PX. Then, it becomes much spicier with cardamom, nutmeg, pepper... It's quite forceful, almost aggressively so. With water: a slight vinegar touch, dried fruits, pickles, and a hint of cedarwood... Finish: long, rather taut, with a touch of vinegar again (balsamic), bitter chocolate, and clove... Plenty of PX lingering in the aftertaste. Comments: it's more complex than the 2012, but also a bit wild and even somewhat unruly. Very good, in any case.
SGP:461 - 84 points.

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Aberlour we've tasted so far


May 21, 2024