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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Most Recent Whisky

Most Recent Whisky Review

Glenfiddich Fire and Cane

This release is part of the Glenfiddich Experimental series and bottled at 43% ABV (which is quite unusual from Glenfiddich).   It is a peated malt that is finished in rum casks, hence the Fire and Cane (as in sugarcane)  name.  The nose is smokey, but more camp fire rather than strong peat.  Fire before the Cane.  The taste is spicy and nutty, chocolate, pepper, brown sugar and some honey and a hint of the phenol from peat.  The finish is a little hot, like eating burnt cake batter off a wooden spoon.  Water brings up more brown sugar and some lemon peel.  Very nicely done but not sure I would pair peat and rum casks, personnally I prefer peat and sherry casks.

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  • Simon Seaton

    Simon Seaton

    Tuesday, 15 November 2011 16:12

    Dalwhinnie, Inverness-shire, Scotland

    OK whisky lovers, your starter for 10 points, name the distillery on the River Spey that is not considered a Speyside?  If you said Dalwhinnie then congratulations.  The photo and title of this entry may have been a clue huh?  Dalwhinnie is actually classified as a Highland distillery due to its location (much further upstream than the traditional speyside region).   Many distilleries use their tours to promote their USP (unique selling point, apologies for corporate marketing jargon) for example the tall stills of Glenmorangie, the 1608 distilling license in Bushmills, Towser the Cat at Glenturret and Dalwhinnie is no exception.  The USP at Dalwhinnie are their traditional worm tub condensers.  They claim they removed them once for more modern condensers but had to revert back to the traditional ones because the new make spirit changed.  I have expressed my skepticism around these types of statements before so I will leave it at that.  Interestingly, like other distilleries now, most of the Dalwhinnie stock is actually aged offsite.  All this aside, I like Dalwhinnie and enjoyed the tour and the tasting and left with a bottle of their excellent 15 year old Distiller's Edition.  If I had a complaint, it is a long way from anywhere so a coffee shop or something similar to pass the time while you wait to go on the tour wouldn't hurt.
    Tuesday, 15 November 2011 15:04

    Jura Superstition

    This was one of five whiskies that we tried at a tasting led by Ian Buxton in May 2011 in Aberdeen.  Of the five this was not the most expensive or unusual whisky we tried that day, but for me it was the the most surprising and enjoyable, probably because I had some preconceptions regarding the Isle of Jura distillery as producing "middle of the road" malts for blending.  I did not take detailed tasting notes that day, but this is definately a whisky I will be going back to try again and I will post tasting notes then.  Rich, complex and smokey, not unlike Highland Park, this was a great example of why you should try all whiskies and not assume anything.  The only downside was the pang of regret I felt because we did not visit Jura when we went to Islay in 2010.

    Update:  As promised here are some more detailed tasting notes.  The nose is rich and inviting with smoke, pears and seaweed.  The taste is very nice, smooth, smoky but balanced with some caramel.  Fades to a nice oaky, sweet finish and a little more caramel at the end.  This is an excellent every day dram and has the smokiness of an Islay combined with some of the richness of a speyside.

    Sunday, 13 November 2011 03:24

    Benromach, Forres, Scotland

    Scotland smallest working distillery and for me one of the best visitor experiences, Benromach is owned by Elgin's famous Gordon and MacPhail.  They charge $6 but the tour is intimate and family friendly.  They have a very nice and relaxed tasting room and end of the tour they have a very good tasting policy... lots of choice and they seem happy to keep pouring.  As I have mentioned in other reviews, the distilleries that are willing to pour more whisky will probably, in my experience, sell more whisky.   They are on the main road from Aberdeen to Inverness and easy to find and worth a visit.
    Sunday, 13 November 2011 03:07

    Compass Box Hedonism

    Another one of the whiskies we tasted at Ian Buxton's tasting in Aberdeen, May 2011.  I also tried this at WhiskyLive London in 2011. At both events it was one of my favorites. The nose is honey sweet, biscuits, some fresh flowers, vanilla and even the fresh paint note I sometimes get in bourbons.  Great nose.  The taste has more vanilla,  nutty even, lemon peel and the finish is sweet with lots of oaky spice notes.  So far I haven't met a Compass Box product I didn't like...

    Sunday, 13 November 2011 02:55

    Aberfeldy 21 year old

    This was my original post: "I must admit to some mixed feelings on this one.  I bought a bottle of this at Heathrow and it didn't last long.  In fact I didnt even write any detailed notes.  I remember thinking it was a very good single malt and something I thought I would come back to many times.  Then I went to the Aberfeldy Distillery in March 2011 and tried some of the Dewar's blends that contain Aberfeldy and then felt like the $100+ I spent on the single malt might not have been the best investment.  All the flavors I like in Aberfeldy I found in the Dewar's blends and I would probably go back to the Dewar's blends before I bought the single malt again, unless there was a change in the price point.  I have tried it and I like it, but I may not buy it again."

    However I saw Aberfeldy on sale for under $60 in the USA in April 2012 (so there was a change in the price point) and so I am changing score and adding some more detailed tasting notes.  The nose is sweet and malty with some floral honey as well.  The taste was toffee apple and honey, incredibly smooth, almost glassy.  The finish had a bite of oak to nicely offset all the sweetness.

    Sunday, 13 November 2011 02:40

    Crown Royal Black

    Considering all the billboards I drive past everyday on US 59 and the fact that Crown Royal Black sponsors the Houston Texans I really had to review this whisky.  Nice nose with rye, caramel and chocolate.  A little prickle of alcohol as well (this comes at 45% ABV).  The taste is sweet and has oak and vanilla, with a nice mouth feel and a long peppery finish with a bitter oak note.  I prefer this to the standard Crown Royal.  Go Texans!
    Saturday, 12 November 2011 19:45

    Return of the Dinosaurs?

    I have been thinking a lot about the return of Glenglassaugh and must confess to some mixed feelings.  Didn't we learn the lesson of the Jurassic Park franchise (other than a third movie should never have been made) as Dr Ian Malcolm said "Dinosaurs had their shot, and nature selected them for extinction." 

    Seriously though is it just me or is the whisky world's interest with extinct distilleries and those that were extinct and have since been reborn a little misplaced?  I find myself asking this question more and more and as I taste some of these whiskies I find the questions don't go away.  Let's put aside the rarity question.  I fully understand that extinct whiskies are going to be collector's items and that itself creates an interest.  No I am talking about the simple fact, often ignored, that they were probably not always particularly good whiskies (not whether they are collectable).

    In my mind a combination of free market economics and natural selection would suggest that in order for new and better whiskies to come along, less popular whiskies must improve or fall to wayside.  As popular as whisky has become it is still a finite market and therefore only a finite number of whiskies can exist.  If we want better whiskies shouldn't we want less popular or unsuccessful whiskies to perish?    Instead we seem to mourn passing of whisky distilleries or celebrate the re-opening of old ones without asking the important question – why did it close to start with?  Is the reborn distillery really remaking the old spirit and product, if so why?  Or is it using the modern equipment, standards and techniques, and in effect it's a new distillery in an old building.

    The emergence of new distilleries and new whisky making countries suggests to me that in balance we as whisky lovers should welcome the passing of some tired old production that was never successful or large enough to survive and welcome the next whisky that will inevitably follow in footsteps, almost certainly a better product given the high standards of distilling and maturation today.  Simply put some of these whiskies weren't good enough or loved enough or viable for whatever reason at the time and for the good of the whole industry they had to die.  My guess is that they weren't the best whiskies and therefore the fittest survived.  If total whisky production or producing countries was falling I would understand, but clearly that isn't the case, so let's collectively move on.   

    If you do come across a rare bottling of single malt from a closed distillery enjoy by all means, but don't try and tell me it is a loss to the industry.  My guess is it probably isn't, although I am sure from time to time some good production has been lost it has been more than outweighed by the good new whiskies added almost every day.  I am sure almost any distillery can produce, from time to time, a one off single cask bottling of exceptional quality but it doesn't mean that everything produced there was of the same standard.  Occasionally even a blind squirrel will find a nut.

    So let's not mourn the passing of distilleries or worry about the rebirth of others, perhaps we should even encourage and welcome it, raising the standards of the global product for everyone, like a gardener pruning old tired flowers so healthy new growth can come through. 

    Saturday, 12 November 2011 02:12

    Thomas H Handy Sazerac Rye

    This is powerful stuff, if didn't want to drink it you could always run your car on it.  Bottled at 64%  the nose has fruit, cinnamon and some cereal notes, perhaps corn or rye.  Without water the alcohol dominates at first but with some water some other flavors come through, especially rye, chocolate milk and caramel, spices and cayenne pepper come through on the finish. But lurking behind all those spices there is also a fruity note, like a mandarin orange or even mango.  A long finish, really long.  I liked it with water.  Powerful and not cheap, it as much a biofuel as a drink without water, definately not for the beginner.  This one is a "creeper" and the more I drank the more I liked it.
    Friday, 11 November 2011 21:38

    Glenglassaugh 26 year old

    I tasted this rather rare whisky in 2011 at a tasting led by Ian Buxton and as I am still alive at time of typing this review I can safely say, as per his excellent book, I tried it before I died.  Simply put I was not blown away by this one, hence 2 stars, and with 100 other whiskies to find and drink I am not planning to spend some pretty serious money, probably over $200, on another bottle based on that experience.  If I see it in a bar some time I will try it again and take some more detailed notes and post those.  I have some reservations about the hype surrounding extinct or "re-born" distilleries... seems to me they were shut down for a reason (while others succeeded and even thrived) so why are they suddenly so great?  Bringing this whisky back from extinction is potentially dangerous, didn't we learn anything from the Jurassic Park franchise (besides that making a third movie was a terrible idea)?   I admit I am being deliberately contentious, and this whisky is unlikely to eat anyone, but this is a theme I will explore further in my blog. 
    Friday, 11 November 2011 21:10

    Ardbeg, Islay, Scotland

    This was the distllery I was most looking forward to visiting when we went to Islay in 2010.  Why?  Well Arbeg was the reason I even started drinking Islay's peated whiskies, though I had tried the unpeated Bunnahabhain before, and it was because of an expression called Blasda.   I tasted a sample of Blasda in Oddbins in Cults and thought it was delicious, very sweet and flavorful and with a lighter, more subtle peat taste.  So I bought a bottle and found it was the perfect entry into the world of Islay whisky.  The fact they made a whisky that was so approachable encouraged me to explore Ardbeg more and to look for the subtle, sweet flavors I loved in Blasda in their other expressions and to succesfully "look past the peat".  Before I knew it, I loved peated whisky.  The distillery is really well done with a great cafe, an expansive gift shop and a detailed tour with a knowledgable and passionate tour guide (all for about $3).  However the best part was the tasting as they pulled out the really good stuff.  They offered the standard 10 year old, Blasda (Tammy chose that), Uigeadail and even the amazing 60% abv Supernova.  I ended up buying the Supernova because it was so good.  Other distilleries take note, pouring your premium offerings can help sales, after all I am much more likely to spend $100 on a bottle of whisky if I have actually tried it.... just a suggestion.

    Whiskies Tried...

    Total to Date: 660

    Distilleries

    Visited to Date: 58

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    Random Whisky

    Bowmore 15 year old Darkest

    As I have mentioned before in my blog and Bowmore distillery review, I love this whisky.  I simply don't have the words or skill to describe accurately how this made me feel when I first tried it, so please forgive my attempts below which, before I have even typed them, I know will not do this justice.  For me there is something very special when the right peated spirit meets the right sherry cask and this whisky is a great (if not the best) example of that.  The nose has lots of dark fruits and sherry and christmas cake.  A little hint of smoke but the sherry casks win the nose.  The taste is sweet at first, orange marmalade and then a dry sherry finish,  As the sherry fades away the peat smoke, tingling and warm but not medicinal or overly earthy, builds up and perfectly balances out this whisky.   If the sherry in the nose is the first impression, the tingle of peat smoke is the last.  It's not good, it's brilliant.  It is not always easy to find, but usually not too hard either, not cheap but still good value and is often on my shelf at home.