The whisky world must surely, if slowly, be developing a degree of desensitisation to bottlings directed toward wealthy drinkers, collectors or speculators. Be it £1000 worth of old Glenfarclas whisky, £2500 for some travel retail-exclusive exotica or the now all but ubiquitous 10k Dalmore, such release are certainly unobtainable for the larger majority of us. Debates still abound as to the merits of such bottlings, and the arguments show no sign of calming whether you fall on the “well if people pay it, they should charge it” side of the fence or take the contrasting “a fair price is not simply what the market will pay” viewpoint. Still, such whiskies never fail to court attention and this new bottling with a RRP of $3500 (the U.S.A will be the first market to receive it) will surely be no exception.
Balblair, and indeed the Inverhouse owned distilleries as a whole, isn’t a name you might instantly associate with such “ultra-premium” releases. Of course there have been a few, not least the excellent 1965 Balblair vintage we saw shortly after the brands re-packaging/launch in 2007, but in the main Balblair has remained a well-priced malt of sometimes overlooked quality. However, now that almost all of the aforementioned 65 has found its way safely into the arms/glasses/cabinets of well-heeled Whisky lovers world-wide, it’s time for a new flagship. Enter the 1969; previewed earlier this year at the distillery and formally launched this past week in London, this vintage with its elegantly understated packaging looks to be a hit, if you’re lucky enough to get a nip that is.
Back to Islay today and a chance to look at what, since the sale of Bruichladdich distilery earlier this year, is the island’s only remaining independent distillery. A sad thought perhaps but the young Kilchoman is flying the flag for small scale production with considerable aplomb. Opening in 2005 as the island’s “farm distillery”, Kilchoman was always intended to offer spirit that was sown, grown, malted, distilled and bottled on Islay. However, in order to deal with the considerable pressures that face any new distillery, the majority of the production has relied upon barley sourced from external maltsters.
The desire to taste whisky from Islay’s first new distillery in 124 years was always going to be considerable. Indeed, since opening Kilchoman has offered a surprisingly constant flow of offerings. It’s fair to say that the spirit quality has always met with wide acclaim; however the same may not be said for all of the sometimes pricy releases. That is always a hazard of offering whisky that is clearly in a process of maturation rather than at the peak of its powers of course, though in my view Kilchoman distillery is not the very worst of culprits. This bottling draws us back to the beginning of the story though; the first release of a true, 100% Islay produced whisky and that must surely pique the interest of any whisky lover.
It must surely be time for another oldie, and indeed time to feature another of Dominiek Bouckaert’s excellent Whisky Man bottlings. Tomintoul distillery certainly isn’t the most glamorous or oft-lauded name in the Whisky world, but like just about any distillery –well virtually- there are still gems to be found. It’s a relatively young plant, built in the mid-60s and now in the hands of Angus Dundee Distillers it is producing a range of affordable expressions, not to mention a beautifully packaged 76. The site also distils a peated make under the name Old Ballantruan which has recently been packaged as a rather attractive 10 year old and is worth checking out, if only for interests sake.
On to Independent examples such as this 1969 release then, and as with many distilleries where the focus has been largely placed upon producing stock for blending, the non-proprietary releases tend to provide punters with good value and perhaps the best opportunity to get a handle on what the distillery has to offer. There has been quite a number of late 60s Tomintoul casks bottled over the last few years, many of them of high quality, and given the reputation of Dominiek’s selections it can’t be easy to track down and recognise a cask that offers something new. Particularly while retaining the qualities that have given a number of these old Tomintoul’s favourable reviews in the past.
It seems to be that time of the month again, that is to say the appropriate moment to divulge a few delightful tipples that have been entertaining us as the nights draw in. Interestingly we seem to be taking a slight break from the somewhat stereotypical wintery warmer associations of sherry casks and smouldering peat smoke, instead leaning towards a more fruity, vanilla laden quartet.
There’s a classic, and “slightly” wallet-thinning Islander in the form of Highland Park’s ever-consistant 30 year old, while a long lost Lowlander is getting it’s second airing on the blog after an already favourable review. Then comes a surprise entry from India – in terms of the distillery at least – that had, until recently, been all but unknown to the whisky fraternity at large. Then finally we have a true cracker from the first batch of Buffalo Trace’s dependably excellent Antique Collection. Enjoy!
It’s been too long since one of the Compass Box whiskies has featured on the blog, and that certainly isn’t down to a lack of new and interesting bottlings on their part. Last time we did take a look at one of John Glazer and Co’s releases it was a new addition to the company’s core range in the form of the Great Kings Street Arist’s Blend. This time around it’s a more limited bottling and 2012’s version of the much admired Flaming Heart.
This is the fourth incarnation of the company’s typically peated, annual blended malt and like the others this version has already found favour in a number of quarters. As before, this new version is composed of highland and Islay malts alongside Compass Box’s ubiquitous French oak, but this time a little sherry influenced stock has found its way into the mix. A comment must be levelled at the work that has clearly gone into the packaging of this release – and the vast majority of the company’s other bottlings for that matter, its simply beautiful; let’s hope the whisky is likewise.
As far as any single scotch goes, Littlemill whisky must surely be a prime candidate for surprise of the year. Cask after cask –shared or otherwise – has come to the market and regardless of bottler, quality has been exceptionally high. The refill or bourbon casks have been both fresh, zesty and rounded while the sherry casks (such as the Littlemill 1988 Archives we reviewed in August) have offered varying degrees of contrasting, dark-fruited richness.
This example from the good chaps at The Whisky Barrel comes under their popular “Burns Malt” series and is listed as a Sherry Cask. Judging from the colour, it’s from fairly inactive refill wood and may therefore serve as a perfect contrast to that aforementioned, well sherried Archives release. What a shame it is that, along with a number of much loved distilleries, we are discovering such quality only after Littlemill is lost to history.
If Japanese whisky now stands as an equal to Scotch, then it must be said that this status is owed in no small part to Karuizawa whisky. This sadly closed distillery was a small, craft orientated operation and resolutely adhered to a production centred around Golden Promise barley and the finest Sherry casks available. However, the quality of Karuizawa’s output was discovered too late as, like Port Ellen for example, the spirit requires long maturation to reach the heights that have garnered it such widespread praise in recent years.
This example was bottled for this year’s The Whisky Exchange -Whisky Show and managed to stand out among the events veritable Smörgåsbord of dramming delights – not to mention several other spectacular Karuizawa’s -. Its offers a rare opportunity to taste the distillery’s make devoid of the heavy sherry-influence that has helped build Karuizawa’s near mythical reputation, and thus maybe offering us a clearer glimpse of what was undoubtedly a top-quality new-spirit.
Since 2001 Diageo’s annual special releases have offered up some of the most anticipated, hyped and desirable bottlings of any given year. It’s hardly surprising when you consider the featuring of such legendary names as Brora and Port Ellen, alongside unusual examples from much loved distilleries like Lagavulin or Talisker. It’s a set of bottings that has always excited drinkers, collectors and speculators alike though admittedly, by virtue of rising prices, the range now leans toward the latter.
This year sees the continued inclusion of the usually excellent 12 year old Lagavulin and the curious unpeated Caol Ila. Talisker is also represented once more, but this year sees the introduction of a 35 year old bottling rather than the more familiar 25 or 30. There’s another hugely desirable Port Ellen of course, and a 35 year old Brora –perhaps one of the last?-, both of which are sure to disappear in double quick time, even while sporting the highest retail prices yet. This year’s less predictable bottlings come in the form of a 25 year old Dalwhinnie, a sherried 30 year old from the rarely encountered Auchroisk and the re-introduction of the revered 21 year old Lagavulin.
Gordon and MacPhail, a name now steeped in history and with a reputation for foresight and quality that spreads throughout the core of the industry and beyond. When blends were king and the words “Single Malt” were spoken by a reverent few, Gordon and MacPhail were quietly laying down stocks with the idea that soon enough, the output of a single distillery would be considered the pinnacle of sophistication for whisky drinkers. What was considered an eccentric idea at the time has now become an example of exceptional vision, a vision that has helped many distilleries through difficult times.
This unending faith in the quality and longevity of Scotch whisky is now paying great dividends, leaving this family owned company with some of the most enviable casks in existence. In March 2010 Gordon and MacPhail launched its Generations series and shared with the world a prime example of what has made their company different for so many years; the oldest whisky yet released. This 70 year old gem from the Mortlach distillery belied its age with a delicate grace and richly fruity personality. This was to be followed just a year later by a similarly remarkable Glenlivet whisky of the same age. The second batch – of the same bottling – has recently been launched in Canada, giving us a prime excuse to revisit and review this rather special whisky.
It’s that time of the month again; we at WM towers have been attending to the “challenging” task of selecting a few favourite bottlings that we feel worthy of your consideration. It seems that the shifting seasons may be beginning to move our tastes away from the the more delicate, summery end of the flavour spectrum and back towards the rich and autumnal. This is hardly unusual of course and “playing to your palate” is rarely a bad idea.
This time around the common themes of sherry and peat feature across the board, with a group split between a pair of densely peaty old favourites from Islay, a recent, very well received BenRiach and another favourite from the ever-enlightening Amrut distillery of Bangalore. Regardless of seeming similarities in style this is a highly eclectic set of bottles, each with its own distinctive take on a theme, just as whisky should be. Enjoy