Wednesday, 29 January 2014

No Frills

Bladnoch 10YO Lightly Peated - Sheep Label - 55%

You're lucky they give you a picture.

Bog-standard bottle. Lack of shiny box adorned with Celtic symbols (lack of a box at all, in fact). No blurb recounting tales of warriors past doing battle in the midst of the cataclysmic Scottish elements. Rather uninspiring, possibly home-printed label. It's fair to say that the chaps at Bladnoch don't have a lot of time for marketing.

Luckily for us, what they do have time for is producing good quality whisky at very reasonable prices. You'll frequently find 10-14 year old single cask offerings, bottled at cask strength, for a shade over forty notes. I have yet to experience a bad Bladnoch; thinking back, I'm struggling to recall one that has been anything short of excellent. Admittedly I've yet to experience a peated version, so today all bets are off.

A wee nip courtesy of the high strength greets me but this soon dissolves into a rich, fruity aroma. Pralines and milk chocolate follow with the faintest whisper of smoke on the end.

Water unveils darker fruits and hazelnuts with gentle smoke humming along underneath. Creamy milk chocolate and sweet honeycomb. Fantastic.

Initially sharp but mellows almost instantly. Delivers its 55% very well indeed with red apples and damsons drizzled with alpine chocolate and pralines. There is peat in the mix but it's mild and unobtrusive.

Water brings out some unbelievably creamy notes with the peat taking a more dominant role. It simply sparkles. Everything about this dram is working in harmony. Quality oozes from every drop.

Creamy and spicy with wafts of smoke. The finish betrays the smooth delivery of the alcohol with a lovely nip at the tail end. Every now and then a mild medicinal note wanders through the door.

Water amps up the cream. Sweet sherry and fading chocolate biscults. The spice has ebbed away leaving time for a sweet, smoky brulee encore.

I'm a massive fan of Bladnoch's offerings and this is no exception. The peat adds a new, albeit subtle, dimension but the quality still shines through. Water brings great balance and doesn't diminish the quality at all and, believe me, it holds up to a lot of water. Natural presentation, cask strength and under £50. Sold.

Grade: A
Awesome quality as usual and an interesting twist to boot. A real find.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Finding My Marbles

Linkwood 12 - Flora & Fauna - 43%

Who'd rescue Zelda and save Hyrule?

Linkwood yeah? Ever tried it? The chances are that most whisky drinkers have without even knowing it. A hefty amount of the spirit hauled out of the gates goes into Johnnie Walker and White Horse blends. There's trickery going on behind those stone walls.

It's a testament to the quality and versatility of this Speyside stalwart that, a couple of short hiatuses notwithstanding, Linkwood has been producing the good stuff for nigh on 200 years. Malts may be highly prized by the whisky anorak, but it seems that the world demand for blends is what keeps the lights on in this part of Elgin. That being said, it'd be rude not to shine the spotlight on what this malt is capable of.

Bundles of orchard fruits. Mixed nuts with honeyed cashews providing the highlight. Grassy and fragrant.

Water beings more grass and fewer nuts. Fruit is still the major player here, now with a light, citrussy element.

Crisp, dry and fruity. Toffee apples and toasted pine nuts. A slight saccharine note that is kept in its place by sharp baking apples as the dram opens up.

The palate is somewhat impeded by water; although crisp and dry, the fruit has taken a bit of a beating and the toffee is all but gone. A little winey with a sherbet effervescence.

Lingering but far from brash. Dry and slightly sour on the sides of the tongue. A little spice after a while with a moderately vegetal final bow.

Water develops little and damages lots. A few drops is all it takes to render the finish insignificant.

It's clear to see how Linkwood has survived the peaks and troughs of whisky history. It's a very capable malt but ideally suited to blends, i.e. good quality but plays well with others. Currently available for a shade over £40, it won't break the bank either. Worth a try.

Grade: B
A great example of a light and fruity Speyside, just don't add water.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Holy Cow

Glen Scotia 18 year old - 46%

Popular with Smurfs
Campbeltown eh? Two closures, one bankruptcy and a suicide; you could say that Glen Scotia has suffered a somewhat colourful past. Judging by the new packaging, the same could be said about the future.

A relaunch early last year saw Glen Scotia put out a bunch of new releases spanning the spectra of both age and, more worryingly, colour. The new design wouldn't look out of place in a trendy city nightclub and presumably is supposed to appeal to the masses. Bear in mind that the same could be said about Big Brother contestants. Inside the bottle it's a different story; no colouring, no chill-filtration and 46%. It's a farmer in banker's clothing.

Quite muddled at first. There are apples in there, certainly, although nothing else really jumps out. A little time to open up suggests a hint of board marker but it's fleeting. Wholly underwhelming.

Water gives a little sweetness with a suggestion of cherry-vanilla but by Christ, it's hard work. A little more time in the glass does precisely nothing.

A little spice, a little wood. Slight bitterness, some sweetness. They're all out of sync; nothing's really holding them together.

With a little water, there's not much of a change. All of the elements are still there but they're just not engaging. Imagine four school friends at a reunion after 20 years; all in the same room but it's just a little bit awkward.

Short-medium with an element of spice. Not unpleasant but certainly unremarkable.

A little water and I'm still waiting for something to happen. The spice is there but it's a one-trick pony. Hold on, there's the merest suggestion of a citric tang. Nope, it's gone. Is there anything good on the telly?

Looking back at the tasting notes, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a poor whisky. I promise you, it's really not and is certainly greater than the sum of its parts. All the elements of a good whisky are there it's just that they're all over the show and it never quite gets off the ground.

Grade: C
All the notes are there, someone please put them in the right order. As things stand, everything seems to be cancelled out by everything else and the whole thing falls flat. Shame.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Cos Mickey Loves Ya!

Auchentoshan 21 - 43%

Ach, ya big softie!

Merciful heavens, a triple distilled Lowland Whisky? At 43%? If ever the art of dramming could be compared to homeopathy, this is it, right? Right?

Well no, not really. Auchentoshan certainly can produce some sweet and delicate whiskies but anyone who has tried the quite excellent Valinch releases will know that this is not a spirit bereft of character. Yes, they mostly put out whiskies at 40-43% and yes, they chill-filter but you've got to bear in mind what they're aiming for. This isn't an Islay juggernaut, nor an East Highland coastal bruiser. This is Lowland.

Vanilla cream and coconut ice; yep, we're talking sweet. Maple syrup to follow and an intriguing waft of gooseberries as it opens up. Buttery toffee and honey come into play in the later stages.

Water kicks the honey up a gear with almonds and delicate marzipan lending companionship. Vanilla is still a major player but the creaminess fades into coconut milk with hints of fresh mint and bakewell tart.

A mellow quality that puts me in mind of Irish pot stills. Cereal served up with mint chocolate ice-cream. Dark chocolate notes but not bitter and exhibiting a rather flat mouthfeel. Nothing really stands up to be counted; everything is suggested.

Amazingly, this stands up to a little water. Mint has left the building and wood floods the mouth in its place with a little spice. Flashes of sherry with a good amount of pepper and oak.

Surprisingly substantial considering the delicate nature of the palate. Quite drying with wood and white pepper taking centre stage.

I'm taken aback! Water has not made a dent in the finish, instead it rallies. It just goes on and on, entertaining the tongue long after the glass is empty.

I'm both amused and impressed. I fully expected this to die in the glass when exposed to water but, if anything, the addition of water just made it angry. It's Rocky vs Clubber Lang all over again. However, before we get too excited, it was only four drops of water. Also worth taking into consideration is that this whisky retails for between £90 and £120. At that price I'd expect quality in the glass.

Grade: B
Taking into consideration taste, presentation and price, I'd have given this a solid C grade. However, its Lazarus-like resilience and unexpected finish tickled me so much, I have to bump it up a notch. Entertaining.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Highs and Lows

BenRiach Solstice 17 Second Edition - 50%

Port and Peat, not Short and Sweet
Curiositas! Heredotus Fumosus! Septemdecim! Authenticus! No, not a wand fight in the Gryffindor common room but a series of peated offerings from Speyside independent distillers, BenRiach.

Less Hogwarts-y but no less peaty is the 17 year old Benriach Solstice, an ex-bourbon matured whisky finished in Tawny Port casks and presented at 50%, un-chillfiltered and at natural colour.

Red fruits dominate but are underscored by an appetising coal tar note with beach bonfires lending support. Blackberries and board markers make an appearance, getting stronger as the whisky opens up.

Water has a devastating effect on the red fruits but reveals marzipan and black cherries. The coal tar makes a swift exit leaving billowing smoke and toasted almonds in its wake.

Sharp and fizzy at first with sour fruit and dying embers. Modest peppery notes; pleasant but far more savoury than the nose would suggest.

Water sweetens the sour notes and, although only just, takes the edge off of the spice. Black cherries join the party.

Initially drying. Medium long with a phenolic haze. Flecks of chilli on the sides of the tongue make things interesting.

Water adds a touch of magic to the affair and lengthens the finish to an incredible extent. Far less phenolic now but the chilli evolves into a full-on assault. Balanced out by a drying sweetness and obvious woodiness, which is bold but not overdone.

This one had me at sixes and sevens. The nose yelled dessert but the undiluted palate pulled the rug from underneath me. It's been a long time since a dram has made me work so hard. Not immediately accessible but stick with it and you'll be richly rewarded. Deliciously complex and, at 50%, excellent value for money.

Grade: B
Port and peat is not everyone's dream pairing but it works very well here. A fireside dram to sit and chew over, just don't let the nose fool you.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

HMS Glendronach Turns Left

Glendronach 15 year old Tawny Port Finish - 46%

More cherry than sherry

Speyside has long been the seat of sherried whisky royalty and possibly, just possibly, there's a new King on the throne.

Sample provided by Matt Smith

This particular whisky however, is less about the sherry wood and more about the finishing cask. In 2010, Glendronach released a range of finished whiskies at 14-15 years old. Being Glendronach, the whiskies were presented at 46%, non-chillfiltered and at natural colour. This review will focus on the 15 year old Tawny Port finish, and boy, what a colour.

Red fruits. Strawberries and damsons with a jolt of sweet balsamic grape must. Oranges and candied lemons.

Water unleashes a tidal wave of vanilla cream with the strawberry notes asserting dominance and fig rolls making a cameo.

Sticky, syrupy mouthfeel. This is a real sweetie. Custard creams, vanilla wafers and milk chocolate. With a little time, it becomes a riot of fizzy summer fruits and gentle spice.

Water amps up the spiciness and brings some pleasant woodiness to the fore. Cinnamon and a touch of Cayenne with toffee and some wisps of rum/raisin. The fizz is still there but it's a little muddled.

Slightly drying and medium-short. Competent and pleasant with waves of woodiness.

As with the nose, water brings out some spiciness. Wood tannins are still present but restrained and the finish draws out nicely.

Glendronach bottlings have been consistently good over the last few years with some absolutely stunning single cask releases. This is a bit of a departure but a worthy attempt at a finished whisky. It's perhaps a little unbalanced but there's enough going on to keep things interesting.

Grade: B
A fizzy, summery dram that evokes memories of Wimbledon and picnics in Hyde Park. It's good but not rocking my world. At under £50 though, it's a contender.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Ageless in Edderton

Balblair 1975 2nd Release - 46%

Simple packaging, complex content

The chaps at Balblair have done away with age statements, meaning most of us will have to sharpen up our subtraction skills....

Balblair's core range consists of whiskies sold by vintage. Ostensibly this is done to allow them to put out a whisky at its peak, as opposed to being tied to a particular age. The whiskies are presented without chill-filtration, at natural colour and, 1991 aside, at 46%. This will doubtless please the whisky anoraks amongst us while the simple boxes would suggest you're spending your hard earned money on what's in the bottle, not around it.

Old vanilla and spice. Sweet toffee notes with beeswax and a scintilla of furniture polish.

With water the spice is dampened with the citrus taking centre-stage. Waxy lemon rind is underscored by a buxom honeysuckle note.

Boisterous for a Balblair. Almost a cacophony of wood, vanilla and spice with a honeycomb bass note. Beautifully complex and yet utterly drinkable.

Water is very much playing the role of conductor here; cacophony turns to harmony and yet the complexity is not hurt one bit as the whole affair sweetens.

Medium length and low key but boy, that spice! It clings to the side of the tongue like a barnacle to a ship's hull.

If anything, water lengthens the finish. Spice is still the star of the show but sweetness now lingers giving the finish a brilliantly balanced final bow.

Balblair has put out a real corker. It's bold, balanced and considering the extensive time spent in the cask, not over-oaked in any way. Craft presentation is a plus and, purchased at £220, it's not scandalously priced when you consider it's a 37 year old distillery bottling.

Grade: A
A great, balanced, sensibly priced whisky. Somewhat punchy when compared to other vintages in the core range but constructed well enough to ensure that nothing really dominates. A top dram.

Breaking Brora

Brora 35 year old 1977 (49.9%) - 2013 Special Release 

Copyright - Master of Malt

Reviewing something as divisive as a Diageo Special release can be a political minefield and is certainly not the kind of review you should use to kick off a blog. You'd have to be a complete fool to do that.

If a reviewer drools and simpers over it, they run the risk of being called out as an industry shill. Rip it apart, set it on fire and urinate on the ashes however, they're in real danger of being labelled something much more worrying - a whisky hipster.

Now, I am far from being a reformist, however having sourced this sample from my own pocket (all the while wincing at the price), I feel under no pressure to don a sequinned waistcoat and turn somersaults to the tune of a street organ. Instead, I shall attempt to dissect, assess and sum up as I see fit. Additionally, lest my buttocks be plagued with splinters, I shall attempt to do so with minimal fence-sitting.


Light, east Highland character akin to aged Clynelish. Floral with an intriguing speck of Indian spice. The merest suggestion of sea spray and smoke.

With water the smoke is softened but more evident. Sweetcure ham and mild soap make an appearance.


Rich and heathery with restrained sherry notes. Floral with a decadent, oily mouthfeel and superbly spiced.

With water the whisky takes a sweeter, spicier turn with white pepper stepping forward and a salty spray creeping in towards the finish. Sweetcure ham becomes smoked bacon and the whole affair loses a touch of complexity.


Restrained but still long. Less Edinburgh tattoo and more Andean panpipes.

Water has an adverse effect on the finish but it remains robust enough to hang around for an encore.


The question I find myself pondering is whether this is worth the hype, the clamour and, ultimately, the price. This retailed originally at circa £750; Lord knows what it would command on the secondary market. There's really no doubt that this is a very good whisky; as good a whisky as any I have tried. However, as a whisky drinker (not an investor), I'd say an aged indy Clynelish could be just as good for a small fraction of the price.

Grade: A     

Stunningly good and an excellent example of East Highland whisky. Cripplingly expensive and an excellent example of current whisky hysteria. Save yourself a fortune and buy an older Clynelish.