May 132015
 

Springbank 25 y.o. (2014)041

46% abv

Score:  87/100

 

This is a perfect whisky to use as a model in illustrating the current state of single malt Scotch and talk about the ongoing allegations of declining quality and inconsistent brand releases.

Before we get started, let me offer up a word of clarification to temper the immediate assumptions that could be drawn from that first paragraph.  This is still pretty darn good whisky in its own right.  It’s not spectacular – especially at the $700ca mark – but it is a solid offering that is somewhat consistent with the distillery’s style.  Ok so far?  Alright…moving on…

This is 2014’s edition of Springbank’s quarter century milestone malt.  The last version of this whisky I tried (and the only one I know of, to be honest) was the 2006 release.  I loved that malt.  It wasn’t without its flaws, but it was singular and suited my palate perfectly.  Again, a pricey affair, but the rewards were tangible, if maybe not entirely in line with the outlay of benjamins required to score one.  What we have 8 years on is a mere shadow of this once princely dram.  Actually that’s not entirely accurate, as it sort of implies that the basic outline is the same as the old edition.  This is an entirely different whisky which, in my opinion, shouldn’t be this different from its forebears.  The reasons though, are likely very easily explainable.

The story, I would imagine, goes something like this:  In days gone by (let’s say up until about a decade or so ago) distilleries were producing distillate at a steady clip, filling and maturing barrels and feathering out releases with a regularity that cantered along nicely about in line with the rate of consumption.  Perhaps they were even able to put aside a little extra to gather dust in the furthest corners of the old warehouses.  When it came time to marry barrels together for the next batch of whichever edition was going to market, the ‘nose that knows’ at the distillery (read: master blender, or whatever title they’d claim) would have a decently stocked warehouse from which to pull casks.  Think of it much like a painter having a broad swath of colours on his palette.  Casks would be selected that aligned with the age they were aiming for and if the end product was not quite as glittery as hoped for, these vattings would be sweetened up with a few of the older, more spectacular barrels in bond.  Ergo, your ’18 year old’ whisky was quite likely built upon a fair bit of true 18 year old spirit, but with a decent amount of older and better whiskies mixed in there too.

I am, of course, simplifying things, but you get the idea as to how this relates back to an age where demand hadn’t yet outstripped supply.  Nowadays, in this burgeoning whisky market, distillers struggle just to reach status quo.  Hence the rise of the dreaded NAS malts.  I can almost guarantee that your current ’18 year old’ is just that.  I think you’d be lucky if it was 18 and a day.  You can call this a leap of logic, but it’s an easy inference, considering all of the evidence that has piled up as we’ve watched the times a changin’ for the last half decade or so.

Coming full circle to this Springbank 25 now, it, much like its younger siblings the 21 and 18, has become sadly almost entirely devoid of all the deeper subtle waxy notes, soft fruits and almost tropical nuances that made very mature Springbank a true revelation for many of us.  Its unique profile has been replaced with a more generic – albeit not bad – caramel-y simplicity.  All I can say at this point is…I guess it was inevitable.  Doesn’t make it any easier to swallow though (pun intended).

Nose:  Creamy caramel notes arrive first, then ebb, then return later.  Definitely not as fruity as I’d hoped for.  Smoke and peat are faded and subtle.  Some orange (and maybe other citrus hints?) and leather.  Orange candy.  Decent spice pantry notes, predominantly of the allspice kind of aroma.  Nice, but not overly special.

Palate:  Very nice arrival to get things going.  Hints of smoke and peat, as we’d expect, and an earthy or farmy backdrop.  Over time some sweet, artificial fruit notes emerge.  Leather.  Dried fruits.  Some coffee.  And more of those candy notes again.

Thoughts:  I think I said it all above.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:09 pm
May 082015
 

022Springbank 17 y.o. Sherry Wood

52.3% abv

Score:  89.5/100

 

The old school charm of the malty and moderately-peated Springbank spirit meets the dense, dark punchbowl of heavy sherry.  The result is exactly what you’d expect.  Or exactly what I expected anyway: an almost oily, industrial smoky canvas with splashes of vibrant red and purple fruits thrown all over it.

Springbank has always used a substantial amount of sherry barrels in the maturation of its iconic single malts.  The sherry brings a sweet edge and tempers the more organic heft that comes from the phenolic influence of the peating process.  Don’t get me wrong, though, Springbank malts (excepting Longrow) are no peat monsters and temperance is not necessarily needed.  It’s merely a twist to the tale.  Smoke is integral, but it’s not the ‘be all, end all’ for Springbank.  In fact, I’ve heard the distillery’s peating specs to be anywhere from 8-20 ppm, so as you can imagine this would be a bit of a featherweight when held up against some of the Islay malts from the Kildalton region.

But in this case the sherry notes are not merely a softening tool, but the entire raison d’etre.  And it all works beautifully.  I fell for this one at a festival the first time it was poured for me.  It shone like a beacon against some of the rather dull and typical festival fare.  And while it didn’t resonate quite as strongly when lined up against some beautiful old editions of SB21 and SB25 in a recent tasting we did here, it still more than held its own.  A lovely whisky that brings a whole new dimension to the cabinet.  Hopefully Springbank elects to make this a more readily available bottling, and not simply a one-off.  I can see this one being in very regular rotation if that ever happens.

Nose:  Sweet and creamy.  Roman nougat.  Lush and fruity.  Deep sherry, as we’d expect.  Dark cherry and plum.  Dried cranberries, fresh out of the package.  Oily smoke.  Orange.  Pepper.  Earthy and organic.  Kinda farmy and slightly peaty.  A faint rubber note too.

Palate:  Oily.  Big viscous arrival.  Pepper and peat and bucketloads of dark, dried fruity notes.  Again, I’d use the word ‘lush’.  Malt and hints of coffee.  Leather saddles.  Licorice.  A coastal saltiness about it as well.

Thoughts:  I keep thinking there may be just the vaguest note of sulphur flitting around in there, but when I try to nail it down, I can’t.  So let’s just say this one is clean.  Either way…love it.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:46 am
Apr 282015
 

Springbank 21 (2013)074

46% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

A few years back (2005, to be precise), the good folks at Springbank released a very special 21 year old single malt.  That dram is still one of the 50 or so whiskies that make up my all time top 10 list.  😉  And while that early incarnation of the official 21 may not have initially arrived on the scene with trumpets and fanfare, it was soon heralded as the revelation it truly was.

Fast forward to the present day and we have finally been blessed with a few additional versions of this iconic expression.  Nowadays these 21s (and even a new 25!) have been hitting the market with annual regularity.  This is great news for whisky lovers, as for several years the ‘official’ story (unofficially) was that Springbank had simply exhausted their stores of older casks.  That we now have these sassy gold boxes in hand speaks volumes for Springbank’s careful cask management and current eye to maturing stocks.  Good recovery, folks.

For today’s purposes, though, we’re looking at the 2013 edition.  Let’s check in on what we have now compared to that glorious aforementioned old-enough-to-drink-itself expression.

Hmmm…immediately cause for reflection.  This is definitely not the SB21 I know and love.  It is still somewhat recognizable as a Springbank, but if poured for me blindly…I’m not sure I’d correctly identify it as coming from Campbeltown.  The only true hint is the DNA of farm and lower mid range peat.  It’s not that it veers far from the distillery character, but it definitely plays a little standoff-ish and restrained.  I like this one, but I certainly don’t love it.  Oh well.  Kinda shores up suspicions I had that the 2005 edition was likely built with some casks older than 21 years.

Nose:  Very soft right off.  Fruit flan.  Melon (honeydew and overripe cantaloupe).  Faint smoke, but it’s more like charred wood than peat smoke.  Some polish.  Hay and floral notes.  Oak.  Maybe a touch of creamy chocolate and faint whiffs of leather.  Turkish delight too perhaps?

Palate:  Quite juicy at first.  Slightly tannic as it develops, hinting at the depth of sherry influence.  Waxy and oaky.  Fruity still, but not as soft as the nose; leaning more to dried fruits.  A little bit of bitter almond.  Now we have a hint of peat.  Orange peel and licorice.  Oak is fairly forward.

Thoughts:  A far cry from the glorious older edition of Springbank 21 (2005), but still good.  The sweet and lowdown though…no way in hell is this worth the ~$350ca it will set you back.  Oh yeah…almost forgot…the Golden Girls called…they want their gold lamé back.  This is some gaudy awful packaging.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:55 pm
Apr 072015
 

Springbank 32 y.o.barry's place pics 014

46% abv

Score:  91/100

 

One from days long gone.  A 32 year old distillery bottling from Campbeltown’s mecca of tradition and heritage.  This is the type of malt that Springbank built its name and reputation on.  A mate of mine contends they are nowhere near this sort of punching power now (and he may be right), but they are still certainly one the best out there.

Rumours suggest Springbank exhausted most of their stocks of mature spirit a few years back and have been playing catch-up ever since.  Seems plausible, as for a while the oldest age-stated release we were seeing from this brand was the 18.  A couple years later the 21 returned with a gold-embossed flourish.  And in recent days the 25 has sprung up with a bit of its own fanfare.  The 21…was just ok.  Nothing like the 21 from years back.  And the 25, though I’ve yet to try, recently got lambasted by our friend Serge at Whiskyfun.  I’ll be tasting that one in just a few weeks time.  Hope to be able to let you know.

But this old 32…this is pretty much everything I could possibly ask for in a wizened old dram from the Mull of Kintyre.  It’s bold and balanced; strong and natural; unique and absolutely spot on in terms of distillery character.

Nose:  Smoke and wax.  The smell of old wood and dunnage warehouses.  Coconut milk and soft pineapple juice.  Soft fruits in syrup.  Orange, both flesh and zest.  Vanilla and oak.  Some tame baking spices.  Becomes fruitier and fruitier over time.

Palate:  There’s the maturity.  Waxy…smoky and oaky.  Definitely speaks of great barrel aging.  Dried fruit…apricot maybe.  A hint of creosote.  Gorgeous, gorgeous oak notes.

Thoughts:  One of my favorite Springbank releases to date.  Sadly, malts from this distillery and at this age are both few and far between and extremely cost prohibitive.  Oh, well.  At least we can say we had it.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:56 am
Jul 012014
 

Springbank 18 y.o. (2011)barry's place pics 079

46% abv

Score:  89.5/100

 

Another absolutely classy malt from Springbank.  This is where the distillery really shines.  The spirit ages very well, and the distillery has managed a great cask policy over the years (sadly, not the case with their warehousing of mature stocks).  Not sure how much the traditional approach taken by Spingbank has to do with the overall quality of the product, but the two seem to walk hand-in-hand, so I’ll make my own assumptions.

Doesn’t matter though.  What does matter is that this is a damn fine  dram.  Even now, in this age of overarching mature malt shortages, this one has still been held to a high standard of quality.  If you DO manage to get your hands on a bottle of an older edition though…wow.  That really is something special.

Nose:  A smoky and ‘old timey’ malter.  A fair bit of pepper.  Slightly barnyard farmy.  Smells of warm rubber bands.  Pastry shells.  Anise.  Not as fruity as I’d hoped for.  Just a touch ashy.  Still a very charming and ‘throwback’ style of malt.

Palate:  Great body and presence.  Smoked caramel.  Some spicy, woody and leathery notes.  Malty grains (and maybe multi-grains?).  Some pepper and citrus.  Some nifty savoury notes.  Touch of ouzo.  More smoke to’ards the back end.  Great development.

Thoughts:  Good old fashioned whisky.  The older variant was better (and much more fruit-rich), but this new one is still a keeper.  Hopefully mature Springbank is slumbering away in the Campbeltown warehouses, ’cause quite frankly old Springbank is sexy.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 6:44 pm
Jun 162014
 

Springbank Cask 450044

46% abv

Score:  87.5/100

 

Here’s an odd Springbank.  Not one you’re likely to find easily and not not one you’re bound to hear much about either.  Tracking down details on this one is like hunting for hen’s teeth.  Call me lazy, but I’m simply not willing to do spend a whole whack of time trying to suss out details on a malt that was a very limited run, and is really only being written up for vanity.

It’s an official Springbank distillery bottling.  15 or 16 years old.  Bourbon cask matured.  And that’s about it.  Good enough for this guy, except I guess I’ll take the opportunity to remark on the rather mundane (and let’s face it…bloody boring) packaging.  Oh well.  True beauty is that which comes from within (so sayeth us ugly ducklings).

This bottle was picked up locally here in Calgary for a gent’s night with a few of my good mates.  It was a rather surprising affair, being a little bit less instantly endearing than most expressions from Campbeltown’s best distillery, but a pleasant malt nevertheless.  The straight bourbon cask maturation makes this one a bit unique.  Not one for the ages, but certainly does the trick today.

Nose:  Peat and smoke.  Chewy red candy.  A little bit salty.  Old dunnage warehouse notes.  Prickly cracked white pepper.  Good rye toast with butter.  Good mix of spice and old wood.  Crunchy bartlett pear and some apple.

Palate:  Immediately peaty with iodine and green apple.  Thick and syrupy delivery.  A Bovril meatiness meets dried fruits.  Quite a spicy tang to it.  A better nose than palate, but still decent here as well

Thoughts:  I think maybe the simplicity of the wood allows the peat to show through a little bigger than we’re used to from Springbank.  You’ll undoubtedly find better Springbanks out there, but this is still a neat one to try.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:57 pm
Apr 112014
 

Springbank 25 y.o.barry's place pics 025

46% abv

Score:  90/100

 

Any chance to try a rare old Springbank is cause for great excitement in these camps.  Unfortunately, these opportunities don’t come along often, and are getting more and more scarce by the day.  All related to the laws of supply and demand, my friends.  Short supply…high demand…emerging markets…soaring costs.  Sigh.  Such is, unfortunately.  A few years back, finding those extra special whiskies was like shooting fish in a barrel.  Now it’s more akin to hunting the white whale.  You can still find ’em, but it’s much less of a sure bet now. 

Here we have a lovely old Springbank 25 from several years back.  Not one you’re likely to come across often (if at all), but let’s have some fun parsing it to pieces anyway.  What say? 

I recall this one initially underwhelmed me when I first tasted it a couple years back, but on subsequent revisits I can’t imagine what the hell I might have been thinking.  There is one particularly unique note in here that lights me up like a kid at Christmas.  But we’ll come to that shortly. 

Springbank is beloved by the whisky world for a multitude of reasons, but to break it down to what I think are the brass tacks…this is a whisky of great character, singular profile, traditional values and old school charm.  In short…everything Scotch whisky should be is exemplified by this distillery.  It’s no wonder the malt is so highly prized, especially in its more mature offerings.  While you may have to dig deep into the coffers to afford some of these old gems, trust me…they ARE worth it.  This 25 is no exception.   

So…while this may not be my favorite Springbank (I think we’ll save that honour for either the beautiful older 21 or an amazing Signatory 1969), it is still a special dram, and certainly notches above most of the single malts that are hitting the shelves nowadays. 

Here’s hoping there is plenty of stock gaining years in the warehouses in Campbeltown, because Springbank with a few years behind it is a truly an experience. 

Nose:  Smoky.  Kerosene lamp or creosote or something.  I’ve only ever found this note in a couple whiskies, and it is one of those absolute game-changer smells for me.  Love it.  Fresh paint on high quality wood.  Deep oak notes.  Beautiful.  Caramel-drizzled fruits begin to emerge now.  Sprinkling of spices.  Wax.  Bird’s Custard.  Pears, orange and a bit more.  Man, what a unique nose.

Palate:  That same familiar smoky, oaky kerosene note comes through here as well.  (Only ever found this in very old whisky.  Is there something ancient buried in here somewhere?)  Dry old spices.  Something kinda weedy.  Not nearly as pleasant as the nose hints at.  Tart orange pith and rind.  Dries into autumn grasses and green tea.  Slightly tannic.

Thoughts:  Great dram of unlimited personality.  These glorious one-offs are what makes the quest we’re all on for that elusive ‘grail-malt’ worthwhile.  Extra point for the nose.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:59 am
Apr 012014
 

Springbank 21 (2005)barry's place pics 021

46% abv

Score:  93.5/100

 

Among our wee conspicuous circles here in Calgary this particular Springbank is held in very high esteem.

Long before the current (and seemingly never-ending) whisky boom, Campbeltown’s iconic Springbank distillery was producing brilliant single malt whisky that was seeing the inside of a bottle at all ages from 10 years through 50 years.  The malts that constituted some of their more middle-aged drams were unquestionably composed of whiskies from multiple vintages and eras.  However, instead of pacing themselves – putting out rarified old malts year upon year – Springbank pulled the ‘virgin special’, blew their load too early, and had to spend some time recovering and building up stores for a while.  In other words…they ran the warehouses dry of older whiskies to bottle.

This particular 2005 version of Springbank 21 was the last of its kind until 2012, when the 21 year old made its (semi)triumphant return.  Having tried both the 2012 and 2013 editions, I can unequivocally say that they’re not even close to recapturing the magic.  Those are good whiskies in their own right, but this one…this ’05…is utterly mindboggling in its stunning array of sweet meets mild peat.  Fingers crossed they can one day recreate this gem.

In late 2o12 I found a bottle of this release in the Cadenhead shop in Campbeltown, just steps from the distillery, but by that point – seven years after bottling – the retail price was hovering around the £400 mark.  Admittedly, that’s a little beyond what I’m willing to pay for a whisky of this age.  I must concede, however, I did debate it, and I’m still not sure I made the right decision in leaving it behind.  I don’t own a bottle of the 21, but I must find a way to get one.  In fact…I have offered a good friend of mine a certain part of my anatomy in exchange for one of his bottles.  Steep price, yes…but the whisky in the jar-o…priceless.

Nose:  First things first…there’s the most beautiful thread of smoke woven through this whisky, like the central spoke around which all else is adorned.  Pineapple.  Some other tropical notes bring a neat tang; mango and orange are loudest.  Scones with cinnamon.  Some tartness from an assumed sherry influence; almost Wine Gum-like.  Raisin, grape and chocolate.  Paint and paraffin.  Maybe a touch of leather.  I keep coming back to that smoked tropical character though.  Magic.

Palate:  That smoky mature note is right up front, instantly cementing this as a classic in my books.  The tropical fruit notes meet some tart dried fruit, all in perfect balance.  Toasted oak.  An exciting rollercoaster of development.  There is a great Brazilian steakhouse locally that serves grilled caramelized pineapple.  This makes me think of that.  Again on the tangy orange fruits.

Thoughts:  Unquestionably bearing the hallmarks of a single malt built on a wide spectrum of mature casks.  Without knowing anything as fact, I would bet heavily there are some whiskies much older than 21 in here.  This is one of my all-time favorite drams.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:59 pm
Mar 022014
 

Springbank Cask Strength 12 y.o.024 (Batch 2)

58.5% abv

Score:  88/100

 

I started writing this review a couple of weeks back, awkwardly tweaking and twisting words in an attempt to convey the points I was trying to make, but no matter how I worded it, it came across as forced and contrived. The ideas and analogies were applicable and relevant enough, but the words seemed to fit together as awkwardly as oxymoronic expressions like ‘country music’, ‘government worker’, ‘airline food’ or ‘good rum’.  It just wasn’t working.

After investing that much time working on something, however, it’s often hard to hit ‘delete’.  In the end I finally surrendered and, trust me, we’re all better off for it. When a writer, in any capacity, has nothing to say, or is having trouble articulating, it’s best he or she simply shuts up and powers off. That’s what I elected to do for a while.

Fast forward a couple weeks. Blank page. Let’s start again and simplify.

Springbank.  One of the world’s truly great distilleries and a last bastion of tradition and quality.  I’ve said enough good things about this distillery here on ATW that we can probably leave it at that and simply move on to some thoughts about this particular expression.

This 12 year old cask strength release was built from 60% fresh sherry butts and 40% refill sherry butts according to the Springbank site.  While most of the distillery’s output is quite good, it’s a pleasure to see it served up au natural, as it allows all of the gorgeously heavy farmy/peaty/smoky/malty notes to ring out with clarity and volume.  Drinking this one is like listening to one of your all time favourite albums on a great stereo…and then slowly cranking the volume higher and higher until the windows rattle and the neighbours are knocking.  Springbank has taken a great whisky and amped the shit out of it until it nearly overwhelms the senses.  There’s no straining to detect subtleties on this one.

Don’t get me wrong here though.  I’m not trying to sell this as any sort of angel’s tears or anything.  It is, after all, only a 12 year old, but you’re not likely to find many better out there in this age bracket.  Nice balance struck on this one.  And, man…as I hinted at above…so much ooomph!

If you’re new to the distillery’s output, I’d suggest maybe this isn’t the place to start.  It’s a little bigger than a ‘beginner’s malt’.  Having said that…if you already know and love Campbeltown’s (and one of Scotland’s) greatest distillery…dive in, folks.  This is a good’er.

Nose:  Smoke and farmy peat.  Kinda ashy.  Chocolate malt.  Caramel.  Just a touch of cherry.  Minty.  Very much what I want in a Springbank: big, heavy and malty.  Balance between fruits and smoky grains is brilliant.

Palate:  Ashy, smoky and peaty.  Fresh orange and some red/purple juices.  Into hard and dry pear, clean barley sugars and toothpicks.  Dark earth and clay or flint notes.  Nice arrival.  Loud and brash, but still showing there is some refinement.

Thoughts:   Not my favorite Springbank, but for a mere twelve years on this is an exceptional drink.  (Note: this is an edition from a few years back now)

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:44 am
Dec 022013
 

Master Of Malt – That Boutique-y Whisky Company

Late last year (2012), the good folk at Master of Malt launched a new line of independent bottlings.  Perhaps it was a retaliatory gesture aimed at the creative geniuses behind the Dali-esque naming conventions and abstract tasting notes of the SMWS.  Or maybe it was a shot at Edradour in the way of ‘Aha!  We too can dupe the public into spending much on wee 50cl (500ml) bottles!’  Or maybe, just maybe…it was simply because they had access to some really good whisky and wanted to provide another alternative in the ever expansive market of independent bottling.   

Either way, all three scenarios are met head on with the new brand ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company’.  The niche here is how utterly ridiculous these bottles look nestled amidst the shelves of austere single malt Scotch whisky packaging.  Each label is adorned with comic book-esque drawings artistically reminiscent of a cross between ‘Where’s Waldo’, ‘Tintin’ and ‘Beavis And Butthead’.  The images are not random bits of artistic tomfoolery, however.  They are rather cleverly reflective of the distilleries captured within the glass, and depict some subtle secrets and whisky geekery, sure to have the whiskily-inclined salivating at unraveling all of the hidden meanings.

Now…much like the old adage ‘never judge a book by it’s cover’, it would be a big mistake to dismiss these releases as novelty items.  I mean really big mistake.  As much as the purists may prefer a more…ummm…elegant outward appearance for our snooty tipple’s daily wardrobe, the simple fact of the matter is as mentioned above:  there is some damn good whisky in these bottles.  As soon as these are naked in the glass, all doubt disappears.  We’ll come to some actual tasting notes and details in just a moment.

A little on the bottings themselves…

Each release is wax-sealed, cask strength and non chill-filtered.  Further, in a rather interesting move…they are also non age statement (NAS) whiskies.  If I understand correctly though, these are not single cask releases.  Rather they are built in small ‘parcels’ to a specific desired quality.  *(If I’m wrong here, please correct me).  Either way…the NAS approach will allow Master Of Malt much greater future flexibility in regard to batch variance.  Rest assured, friends…if any of you are naturally cynical about the whole NAS concept (and I know many of you are, especially in light of the whole 1824 deal) …these are not young whiskies.  You can tell just by nosing.

One other point to note:  While other independent bottlers seem to be struggling for some variety in their portfolios, MofM have managed releases from Port Ellen, Brora, Ardbeg, Macallan, Caperdonich, etc.  Neat stuff. 

At this point I am won over.  Can’t wait to see where they go from here.

Forgive the quality of photos (or lack thereof).  They were thrown together rather quickly in the  shop.

 

Secret Distillery (Batch 1)045

55.4% abv     486 bottles

Score:  89/100

Nose:  Tobacco and raisins.  Cinnamon and fresh scones.  Some floral notes.  Baking spices.  Fudge and caramel macchiato.  Honey.  Creamy caramel with fruit.  Rich, rich, rich.

Palate:  Surprisingly tart up front.  Followed by big, dark intimidating fruitcake notes.  Then some apple.  Think a’bunadh meets amaretto with a wee splash of Southern comfort.

Thoughts:  A neat one.  Both in character and out of character at the same time.  Like seeing this distillery in another dimension.

*Secret Distillery’s real name rhymes with Ben Schmarclas.

 

Macallan (Batch 3)048

43.4% abv     245 bottles

Score:  86.5/100

Nose:  Bread dough.  Nice spices..and lots of ’em.  Some apple pie, heavy on the cinnamon.  Some old library notes.  Buttery sauce.  A little atypical of Macallan.

Palate:  Creamy and spicy.  A fair bit of dry oak.  Over-toasted marshmallow.  Grape skins.  Bitter chocolate.  Fairly tannic.  Zippy with spice and very pleasing apple notes.

Thoughts:  Not a bad whisky, but the low, low abv makes me think this one cooked in the warehouse for a while.  If this is indeed and older dram…I’m a tad underwhelmed.

 

Clynelish (Batch 2)042

50.6% abv     319 bottles

Score:  92/100

Nose:  Lavender and perfume.  Some pepper.  Nougat and honey.  Lemon poppyseed muffins.  A little orange juice.

Palate:  Wow!!  Old wax and dunnage warehouse.  Just extinguished candle.  Oil lamp.  Charred oak.  Some smoke.  Sooooo old school.  Cinnamon.  Apple juice and skins at the back end.  One of the all time great palates.  Loved it.

Thoughts:  Some disconnect between nose and palate, but they are at least complimentary.  The palate though…gad!…extra points for sure.  Just wow!

 

Springbank (Batch 2)053

53.1% abv     450 bottles

Score:  88.5/100

Nose:  Pickle.  Dust and pine.  A bit of peat, yeah.  Flinty.  Winter wood fire.  Clove and pepper.  Pine sap.  So odd…so unique…so intriguing.

Palate:  Now there’s the smoke.  Kinda oily.  Notes that should only be found in older whisky (wonder how old this actually is).  Some great sweetness meets the machine smoke.  Some figgy notes with honey.  Smoked fruit skins.  Pear, apple and currant.

Thoughts:  Very different for a Springbank.  The pine and pickle notes really threw me off, but surprisingly…worked out just fine in this one.  I liked it.

 

Highland Park (Batch 1)047

44.7% abv     241 bottles

Score:  88/100

Nose:  Sweet nose with a great composition.  Tangy jam note.  Peach, orange and lemon.  Warm leather and a very inviting salty note (makes the mouth water just inhaling it).  A touch of oil.

Palate:  Smoke and earthy notes.  Hay.  A mix of green and purple grapes.  Walnut.  Old school heft and some moderately subtle sherry-like tang.  Tart marmalade.

Thoughts:  Balance, balance, balance.  Again…a little out of character, but not too far off the path.  Not bad at all.

 

Bowmore (Batch 2)038

49% abv     292 bottles

Score:  89.5/100

Nose:  Farmy and iodione-heavy.  Rubber, smoke and other such.  Lemon zest.  Damp soil.  Smoky fruits.  Gravel dust.  Dry ash.  Sultanas.  Develops a bit of orange and some creaminess, surprisingly…but only if you give it a bit of time.

Palate:  Oh yeah!  Oily..smoky…earthy, and rich in dark red and purple fruits.  Think Laimrig meets motor oil.  Plum and purple grape.

Thoughts:  A well-earned 89.5.  Maybe even closer to a 90.  This is a neat Bowmore.  These recent profiles that combine jammy fruit notes and industrial oiliness…win.  Just win.

 

Caol Ila (Batch 1)039

45.8% abv     732 bottles

Score:  88/100

Nose:  Prickly and briny.  Peat and smoke.  Sweet and citric at the same time.  Orange oil.  Olives.  Candy sweetness.  A dusting of salt and pepper.

Palate:  Very Caol Ila.  Some melon with citrus.  Toffee and smoke.  Oyster with salt, pepper and lemon.  Wet rock.  Ocean shoreline.  oil.  There are some notes that make me think of Kilchoman (if that distillery’s malt were a little more mature).

Thoughts:  Damn decent Caol Ila, but definitely not the best of the indies I’ve tried.  Particularly liked the oceanic notes and oily saltiness.

 

Look forward to future releases.

Thanks to our mate, Andrew Ferguson at Kensington Wine Market, for the chance to try these. 

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:19 pm