Old Pulteney, 12 y/o (Cadenhead’s, 2006)

Distillery: Old Pulteney, Wick, Caithness, Scotland, UK. (Inver House)20190809_191605.jpg

Bottler: Cadenhead’s, Campbeltown, Argyll & Bute, Scotland, UK (J & A Mitchell & co)

Region: Highlands: Northern

Cooperage: Ex-bourbon casks

Age: 12 y/o (barrelled 2006)

ABV: 56.3%

Appearance: Very pale straw (no added color)

Nose: Malt, seaspray, oak, bourbon rickhouse, vanilla, apricot.

Palate: Creamy then hot. With water: toffee, big oak, peach.

Finish: Heat, then vanilla custard. Lighter and oakier with a little kelp.

Parting words: I bought this 200 ml bottle at the Edinburgh branch of Cadenhead’s while on vacation in Scotland back in the first week of July. This is me in front of the store (photo by Liz Wright).

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Cadenhead’s is a magical place. The Edinburgh store is small, but one wall is half covered with a chalkboard on which is listed just about every single malt distillery that has produced anything in the past thirty years. They’re arranged alphabetically and color-coded by region with defunct distilleries marked. The ABV and prices of full 700 ml bottles are list too. There is also a cabinet with a large selection of 200 ml bottles (almost all of them).

There were no ghost whiskies for sale that afternoon, but after I overcame my awe I was able to pick out three 200 ml bottles with the help of a couple staff members. If you’re traveling by plane, I would highly recommend the 200 mls to stretch your dollar and not stretch your luggage. We even bought a 200 ml of Cadenhead’s Highland blended malt to enjoy in our hotel room. We finished it before we went back home.

This Old Pulteney was one of them. I asked the staff for something complex but well-balanced and that is this malt to a T. The nose and finish are wonderful, as is the palate, even if it’s a little less complex. I don’t remember how much we paid for it, but I love this malt. Cadenhead’s Old Puteney 12 y/o, bottled 2006 is highly recommended.

 

 

Big Peat

Maker: Douglas Laing, Glasgow, Scotland, UK20181128_194107.jpg

Distilleries: Caol Ila, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Port Ellen, Islay, Argyll & Bute, Scotland, UK

Region: Islay.

Style: Blended Malt

Note: No color or chill-filtering.

ABV: 46%

Michigan state minimum: $70 ($60 at Binny’s)

Appearance: Pale straw.

Nose: Anti-septic, peat, vanilla, tar.

Palate: Full-bodied and creamy. Peat, creme brulee, smoke, leather, alcohol, lemon juice.

Finish: Big smoke, fading into amaretto.

Parting words: Big Peat was Laing’s breakthrough blended malt and it remains the blender’s flagship. There’s even an annual Big Peat Christmas edition at 53%. It’s even harder to find than the regular Peat!

If ever a name summed up the taste of a whisky, it’s Big Peat. Peat is the dominant aroma and taste by a long shot but judicious blending has resulted in strong supporting roles from smoke, lemon and cream. It’s probably worth $70, but it tastes even better at $60. Big Peat is recommended.

Kirkland Blended Scotch

Maker: Alexander Murray & Co, Aberdeen, Scotland, UK20181109_201041.jpg

Distillers: Unknown

Age: NAS (at 3 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $23/1.75 liter (~$10/750 ml; only available at Costco)

Appearance: Medium copper (caramel color likely added)

Nose: Vanilla custard, lemon zest, butterscotch.

Palate: Full-bodied, mild and dry. Toffee, oak, alcohol, touch of smoke.

Finish: Alcohol, butterscotch, oak.

Parting words: Costco sources its basic blended Scotch from Alexander Murray & Co, an independent bottler out of Aberdeen. There’s nothing earth-shattering about this blend. It has two things going for it: it’s pretty good and it’s very cheap. I like it best in hot toddies (great for sipping out of a travel mug while the kids trick-or-treat) but it does well in other cocktails, with soda or neat in a tumbler. Kirkland Blended Scotch is recommended.

 

Glen Scotia Double Cask

Maker: Glen Scotia, Campbeltown, Argyll and Bute, Scotland, UK20180129_102156.jpg

Region: Cambelltown

Age: NAS

Note: Not chill-filtered.

ABV: 46%

Michigan state minimum: $70

Appearance: Dark caramel. Colored?

Nose: Fruit of the forest pie with vanilla ice cream, roasted almonds.

Palate: Medium-bodied, medium-sweet. Caramelized sugar, high rye bourbon, brown butter.

Finish: Bourbon, vanilla, oak, alcohol.

Parting words: For years, Glen Scotia has been the other Campbeltown distillery, the best known one being Springbank. There’s now a third one, Glengyle, but even that one is owned by the same folks who own Springbank. Springbank had the distinctive bottle, the big fanbase, the cool sounding name and the stable of old Campbeltown names like Hazelburn and Longrow to use for various expressions. Glen Scotia had a generic-sounding name, boring bottles, boring expressions and poor distribution. The name is still there, but the bottle looks good now and there seems to have been an effort on the part of parent company Loch Lomond to improve distribution and upgrade the line with entries like Victoriana and this.

Double Cask shows a good balance of sherry cask, bourbon cask and peat influence. lacks a little in integration but it’s never boring, which is a much greater sin. This is a $70 single malt, although I would hesitate to buy at >$85 or so. Glen Scotia Double Cask is recommended.

 

Grand Macnish, 150th Anniversary ed

Maker: Macduff International, Glasgow, Scotland, UK.20170616_193341

Distillers: Unknown (Seems to be Highland-centric, though)

Style: Blended Scotch whisky

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $19

Appearance: Pale copper.

Nose: Sweet malt, apricot, old leather.

Palate: Medium bodied and light. Saltwater taffy, clotted cream.

Finish: Malt, vanilla, oak, burn.

Mixed: Good with club soda, on the rocks and in everything else I tried it in: Rob Roy (sweet and dry), rusty nail, Scotch Orange Fix.

Parting words: Grand Macnish was founded in 1863 by a man named Robert Mcnish (the a was added to aid in pronunciation). McNish is a sept of the MacGregor clan which explains why the MacGregor motto, forti nihil difficile*, appears on the cap. Corby purchased the brand in 1927. Grand Macnighs has been owned by Macduff International (owner of Lauder’s and Islay Mist) since 1991. Three other iterations of Grand Macnish are available in Michigan, the standard, bottom shelf Macnish ($9), the 12 y/o ($25) and the smoky black edition ($35). The 150th (released in 2013) and the 12 y/o are the most highly regarded among the four, which is not saying a lot, it must be said.

There’s nothing too interesting happening in this bottle but there’s nothing offensive either. It’s much better than similarly priced blends from Dewars, Cutty Sark or J & B, but it’s not quite as much of a value as Grant’s. What it has in common with Grant’s is a weird bottle that draws attention to itself on the bar. $19 is a good price for “inoffensive” so Grand Macnish 150th anniversary edition is recommended.

*To the strong, nothing is difficult.” This was also Benjamin Disraeli’s motto for some reason.

Triple Head to Head: G & M Orkney Tripak

P= Pride of Orkney, 12 y/o blended maltwp-1486168550560.jpg

S= Scapa, 1993 (bottled 2008) single malt

H= Highland Park, 8 y/o single malt

Bottler: Gordon & McPhail, Elgin, Moray, Scotland, UK.

Distiller

P= Highland Park, Scapa.

S= Scapa, Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland, UK (Pernod-Ricard)

H= Highland Park, Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland, UK (Edrington)

Age

P: 12 y/o

S: 15 y/o

H: 8 y/o

Region: Highland/Island

ABV: 40%

Price: I forget.

Appearance

P: Medium caramel.

S: Lighter. Straw.

H: Virtually the same as P.

Nose

P: Alcohol, oak, malt, a little peat.

S: Mild.Oak, seabreeze.

H: Toasted almonds, oak, peach.

Palate

P: Medium bodied and creamy. Caramel, bourbon.

S: Mild. Not much happening but a little burn.

H: Mild. Butterscotch, peat, lemon meringue.

Finish

P: Mild and slightly sweet. Caramel, buttercream.

S: A little fruity. Fades quickly.

H: Slightly chewy but mild. Peat ash, Atlantic ocean.

20170203_193337.jpgParting words: These whiskies come from the two most northerly distilleries in Scotland, Highland Park and the other one in Orkney, Scapa. Highland Park is almost universally beloved for its perfectly balanced and flavorful 12 & 18 y/o bottlings. Scapa is not nearly as well known or highly regarded as HP, but the 16 y/o producer bottling does have its fans. Scapa is unpeated, unusual for a an Island malt, but they did release a peated expression last year.

Pride of Orkney (of G & M’s now defunct “Pride of” series) is a blended malt containing whisky from both of these distilleries. It’s the best of the three. While it’s not earth shattering, it is well balanced with good flavor considering its proof and the fact that it’s a blended malt containing some pretty mild whisky. I suspect it contains caramel coloring. The Highland Park 8 y/o is fine for what it is, a young malt from a good distillery. Higher ABV would do it a lot of favors, but it’s pleasant enough as it is.

Scapa 1993 is one of the dullest single malts I’ve ever had. It doesn’t do anything to distinguish itself, tasting like a generic second-tier single malt. It’s like eating a sleeve of water crackers. It will do if there’s nothing else in the house but you’re left feeling like you just wasted time and calories for nothing.

These three expressions are close to impossible to find on their own now, but I bought this set of minis at a large liquor store just a couple years ago so there are probably more of these sets floating around out there. There is/was also an Islay tripak set. Probably more interesting than this. If you’re curious about the whiskies of Orkney, you might find the Orkney tripak fun but I can only mildly recommend this set.

 

Ardbeg Perpetuum

Maker: Ardbeg, Ardbeg, Islay, Argyll, Scotland, UK (LVMH)20161220_085145.jpg

Region: Islay

ABV: 47.4%

Michigan state minimum: $100

Appearance: Very light gold.

Nose: Grilled peaches, oak, fireplace ash, cigarette smoke (Marlboro-ish), high corn bourbon, peat.

Palate: Full bodied. Butterscotch, peat ash.

Finish: Alcohol, dry chipotle chilis, sherry, fairly short.

Parting words: Is there better way to end 2016 than with a review of a whisky that was released in 2015? Yes, many better ways. I decided to review this anyway, since I picked it up late this year.

Perpetuum was released in 2015 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Ardbeg distillery. Many distilleries in Scotland were “founded” around 200 years ago. This is no coincidence. Beginning in 1816 and culminating in the excise act of 1823, the UK government passed a series of laws creating a level playing field for distillers in Scotland vs those in Ireland and England. Many illegal distillers went straight, refounding their operations and many new distilleries started up.

Perpetuum is a very good whisky. It’s classic Ardbeg: smoky, spicy, but still complex.Problem is, I’m not sure it’s good enough to justify the $20 markup over Uigeadail which is very similar. The well-reviewed and higher ABV Corryvreckan is $10 cheaper, too. So while Perpetuum is very good, it’s not a very good value. Ardbeg Perpetuum is mildly recommended.

Rock Oyster

Maker: Douglas Laing & Co, Glasgow, Scotland, UK20161007_111358.jpg

Distilleries: Isles of Arran, Jura, plus unidentified distillers from Orkney (Highland Park?) and Islay.

Style: Blended island (including Islay) malt.

Age: NAS

ABV: 46.8%

Michigan state minimum: $60

Note: Not chill filtered, likely not colored either.

Appearance: Pale straw with thick sea legs.

Nose:Peat, alcohol, smoke, sherry, seaspray.

Palate: Medium bodied. Sweet butterscotch, then brine, peat smoke and burn.

Finish: Peat, buttercream, then burn. Lang lasting.

Parting words: 68 year old independent bottler and blender Douglas Laing & Co had a big hit a few years ago with their Big Peat blended Islay malt. They’ve now followed up with other regional blended malts. Rock Oyster is the Island edition, as one might guess from the name. Islay is usually considered its own region and not a part of the islands or Highlands but Islay whisky (-ies?) are included in the blend here. This isn’t Big Peat Jr, though. The smoky, peaty, Islay malt is balanced with sherry, bourbon and maritime aromas to great effect.

It’s hard to get a single malt this complex for $60 in these parts. There’s nothing I don’t love about Rock Oyster. Highly Recommended.

Ballentine’s 12 y/o

Maker: Ballentine’s, Dumbarton, Dumbartonshire, Scotland, USA (Pernod-Ricard)wp-1470744396154.jpg

Age: 12 y/o

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $30

Appearance: Shiny caramel, thick, widely spread legs

Nose: Wood varnish, honey, vanilla buttercream, old oak.

Palate: Medium bodied and light in flavor. Butterscotch, salted caramel.

Finish: Werther’s Original candy, alcohol, grape soda, puff of smoke.

Parting words: This review was supposed to be a head to head with Ballentine’s Finest, the entry level NAS blend, but I lost my notes to that. As a friend said to me on Twitter, “Jesus saves and so should you.” True words, but MS should also make it so that autosaved versions of one document doesn’t pop up when you open a different document and give you the opportunity to delete the autosaved versions of the one document.

Anyhoo, not much was lost because there isn’t too much going on with Ballentine’s Finest. It’s inoffensive, but $25 should buy you more than that (though the mid-century style bottle is pretty cool). For $5 more, you can buy the 12 y/o Ballentine’s which is better. This is a Speyside-centered blend with sweet malt and sherry as the leading aromas with some oak and smoke thrown in to round it out. It’s mildly interesting and priced in the same neighborhood as its competition like Dewar’s. That whole neighborhood is overpriced, though. Get yourself a 1.75 liter bottle of Grant’s instead. Ballentine’s 12 y/o is mildly recommended.

Benromach 10 y/o

Maker: Benromach, Forres, Moray, Scotland, UK (Gordon & McPhail)20160310_190411-1.jpg

Region: Speyside (Northwest)

ABV: 43%

Michigan State Minimum: $63

Appearance: Medium copper with medium legs.

Nose: Big malt, new leather, alcohol. As it sits, the leather settles into an old oak aroma.

Palate: Full bodied and medium sweet. Toffee, brown butter, dried red chili.

Finish: Warm and a little chewy.

Parting words: Given the expense of decent single malts, I’m always on the lookout for miniature bottles of SMS for blogging purposes. I picked the one the I used for this review at Vine & Table in Carmel, Indiana (I think).

I like Benromach labels and liked most of G & P’s private bottlings I’ve had, so I was looking forward to opening this bottle. When I first opened it, I wasn’t impressed. It seemed unbalanced and sulphury, especially in the nose. As it sat (or as my palate adjusted itself) I came to enjoy it quite a bit. It’s simple, but the toffee flavor is really hitting the spot for me. Benromach 10 is a simple, affordable dram suitable for after-dinner sipping with friends. Recommended.