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.

Gordon & Macphail Vine & Table Selection- Coal Ila 8 y/o, cask strength.

Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail, Elgin, Moray, Scotland.2015-12-23-15.16.36.jpg.jpeg

Distiller: Caol Ila, Port Askaig, Argyll, Scotland, UK

Region: Islay

Age: 8 y/o (distilled July 2006, bottled August 2014)

ABV: 58.8%

Price: $65 Exclusive to Vine & Table, Carmel (CAR-muhl), Indiana, USA

Notes: Single cask, natural color, not chill filtered. Aged in a refill sherry hogshead, cask #306213. One of 260 bottles. At cask strength, this whisky was all peat and smoke to me, so I diluted it to around 50% ABV for this review.

Appearance: Medium copper with thin, irregular legs.

Nose: Peat, smoke, black tea, drop of sherry.

Palate: Full bodied and hot. Some tropical fruit and vanilla in the beginning then the burn grows as does smoke, but without a lot of peat.

Finish: Ashy. Fireplace, old ashtray at grandma’s house back in the 1980s when people smoked inside. A belch after drinking this is the closest we humans will come to knowing what it’s like to be a dragon.

Parting words: Diageo’s Caol Ila is best known as a supplier of smoky malt for a myriad of independent bottlers and makers of blended malts. There’s also a 12 y/o distillery bottling that I reviewed here and friend of the blog My Annoying Opinions reviewed here. There was at one time a Distiller’s Edition, but I’m not sure how available that was in the US. In recent years there have also been a number of young, cask strength, independent bottlings like this one making the rounds. Most single malt Scotch doesn’t get bottled at anything less than ten years of age, but smoky malts often do because the smoke is more prominent at a younger age.

If fire is what you crave, this is the malt for you. A belch after drinking this is the closest we humans will come to knowing what it’s like to be a dragon. There’s not much else going on, though. There’s a hint of sweet malt and sherry, but it is hard to find behind the inferno. This Caol Ila is one dimensional, but it is only $65 and at cask strength which makes it more attractive than it might be at a standard proof. A volcano like this is especially good if you enjoy making your own blends at home. I mixed a little bit in with some Craigellachie 13 and some 16 y/o grain whisky and it added a nice extra bit of smoke to both of those.

If you enjoy smoky whisky like I do or if you’re looking for some smoke in your personal blending lab, Vine & Table’s 8 y/o, cask strength Caol Ila from V & T is a good choice. Recommended.

Craigellachie 13

Maker: Craigellachie (Aberlour), Craigellachie, Moray, Scotland, UK (Bacardi)wpid-2015-10-30-20.16.53.jpg.jpeg

Region: Speyside (BenRinnes cluster)

Notes: Not chill filtered. The Last Great Malts series.

ABV: 46%

Michigan State Minimum: $55

Appearance: Dark straw with clingy evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Leather, apricot jam, alcohol, lavender, dried date.

Palate: Full-bodied and medium sweet. Ripe red peaches, oak, butterscotch, ground coriander seed.

Finish: Sweet malt, oak, then a light burn.

Parting words: Craigellachie named for a bluff overlooking the River Spey and there is a Craigellachie bridge (built in the early 19th century) and a Hotel Craigellachie that is often recommended as a good place to stay while exploring the Speyside area. The distillery itself has a remarkably boring history which I will not recount. It’s currently owned by Bacardi’s Dewars & Sons division and forms the heart of Dewar’s blends. It has been only rarely seen in independent or distillery bottlings over the years, but that may be changing with its two entries in Dewar’s The Last Great Malts series.

Craigellachie’s neighbors are more famous than it, like Macallan, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Aberlour. Unlike most of those, this is not a light and flowery malt. It’s got heft to it, like Balvenie and Mortlach. It’s often described as sulphury and waxy but I have trouble detecting either one here, though I have trouble detecting them anywhere, frankly. The heft and alleged sulphur come from the large stills (allowing for reflux), use of cast iron worm tubs to cool the spirit, and the relative dearth of copper in the worms, so I’m told.

Unlike Balvenie and Mortlach, there is no beef here. This is all thick custard, fruit and oak. Ex-bourbon casks take the lead here, but there may be a few sherry butts in the mix as well. If so, they are used judiciously. This is an exquisitely balanced, but flavorful and well-craft whisky. It pairs great with homemade shortbread too.

Considering all the garbage that is out there at twice the price, Craigellachie 13 is a steal. Considering how good this is has made me loose even more respect for Bacardi/Dewar’s. How can your blend taste so bad when your malt is so good? I don’t know, but I do know that Craigellachie 13 is great. Highly recommended.

Springbank CV

Maker: Springbank, Campbeltown, Argyll & Bute, Scotland.wpid-2015-05-22-20.29.13.jpg.jpeg

Region: Campbeltown

Age: NAS

ABV: 46%

Appearance: Old gold with evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Peat, damp humus, seawater, leather, sweet malt.

Palate: Full bodied and hot. A little water calms it down. Dates, brown butter, butterscotch candy, roasted pecans, brine, smoke.

Finish: Warm and smoky. More earthiness, wet firewood.

Parting words: I fell in love with Springbank 10 at first sip so I then quickly moved on to the 15 y/o expression. I didn’t realy care for it. It had a tired, murky quality to it that I didn’t care for. So I sadly refrained from buying any Springbank until I bought this in an effort to reacquaint myself with the distillery. What better way is there to get to know Springbank than by drinking its CV?

None, that’s what. This is a fantastic whisky. It has the sweet, nutty characteristics of the 10, but with the added depth of earthiness and smokiness that whiskies from the neighboring island of Islay exihibit. I’m usually a skeptic when it comes to the influence of the ocean on Scotch, but there are aromas and flavors that come across as maritime in this whisky.

The complexity is very much by design. The CV is a marriage of malts of a variety of ages and styles all from the Springbank Distillery in Cambeltown, the smallest recognized single malt Scotch region. My bottle is from the second edition (the first got mixed reviews) and I love it, as you can probably tell. Unfortunately it seems to be out of stock at the usual major retailers, but I paid around $70 for mine and it was worth every penny. I’m sure there are quite a few of these still in the wild. Pick one up if you can. Springbank CV (second edition) is highly recommended.

Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 15 y/o

Maker: Mortlach, Dufftown, Moray, Scotland, UK (Diageo)

Bottled by Gordon & MacPhail, Elgin, Moray, Scotland, UK

Region: Speyside- Dufftown

ABV: 43%

Price: $75 (Binny’s)

Appearance: Dark gold

Nose: Sweet malt, wildflowers, oak, caramel.

Palate: Thick mouthfeel. Brown butter, wildflower honey, beef bullion, alcohol.

Finish: alcohol, butterscotch, vanilla cream, toasted oak.

Parting words: Mortlach was one of the malts that made me reconsider my dislike of Speysiders. This bottling is an excellent example of why I fell in love with this distillery. Meatiness is a house characteristic of Mortlach and it’s in evidence in this bottling. It’s not heavy-handed, though. There’s plenty of sweetness and oak to round it off nicely. It’s complex without being busy. The price is high (for me) but not completely out of whack for a high-quality single malt and cheaper than the new distillery bottlings are going for. If you like the heavier Speyside style and see one of these pick it up. G & M’s 15 y/o Mortlach is recommended.

Head to head: Jura 10 vs. Superstition vs. 16

10= Isle of Jura Origin, 10 y/owpid-2014-09-16-13.30.12.jpg.jpeg

S= Jura Superstition (NAS)

16= Isle of Jura, Diurach’s Own, 16 y/o

Maker: Isle of Jura, Argyll, Scotland, UK (?) (Whyte & Mackay/United Breweries)

Region: Islands

ABV: 43%

Michigan State Minimum

10: $48

S: $57

16: $71

Appearance (caramel color likely added)

10: New penny with long, well-spaced legs.

S: Slightly darker like a middle aged penny. Extensive necklacing.

16: Even darker. Old amber with long thick legs.

Nose

10: Light clover honey, heather, alcohol, hint of leather.

S: Light peat, alcohol, honey, alcohol.

16: Baklava, oak, alcohol.

Palate

10: Medium bodied. Golden apple, wildflower honey, chamomile tea.

S: Butterscotch, thyme, alcohol.

16: Toffee, butterscotch, vanilla custard.

Finish

10: Orange blossom honey but without any bitterness.

S: Smoke finally comes through followed by burn but it then settles down into a peat-infused sweetness.

16: Dark chocolate covered caramels with a little bitter oak on the tail end.

Parting words: I love mini sets like this, because they enable me to affordably give you the head to head tasting you so love, dear readers.

Isle of Jura (distilled and aged on the Isle of Jura, Islay’s neighbor to the northeast) was one of the first single malts I ever tried. Back then all I could find was the ten year old version. I always found it enjoyable but dull. Tasting it again now hasn’t changed my assessment too much. It’s still mild, but it’s enjoyable enough and works well as an entry level or weeknight malt.

Superstition was one of the first Jura line extensions available in the US. It is mildly peated, which adds a nice extra dimension to the malty, honeyed character of the standard Jura.

The 16 y/o is a big toffee-filled dessert dram. It’s not cheap compared to the others, but it’s more affordable than most single malt whiskies its age. Again, it’s not particularly complex but it does one thing and does it very well. In the state of Michigan it also comes in a gift pack with a pair of glasses (for your whisky, not your eyes), so factor that into the price.

All three are good values and recommended.

Highland Park 18 y/o

Maker: Highland Park, Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland, UK (Edrington Group)HP 18

Region: Islands.

ABV: 43%

Michigan State Minimum: $120

Appearance: Light copper with long thin legs. No added coloring (to my knowledge)

Nose: Vanilla butter cream icing, oak, sherry, alcohol, a whiff of peat and a splash of sea spray. Water brings out more brine and peat.

Palate: Medium dry, full-bodied and well balanced. Some sweet malt and vanilla, apricot, followed by sherry and maritime notes. Opens up with a little water. Licorice and oak join the party and the mouthfeel becomes velvety soft.

Finish: Some vanilla and fruit, then burn and peat. Water gives the finish a big burst of peat, toffee and chocolate. Fades more quickly though.

Parting words: I’m fond of saying “nobody doesn’t like Highland Park”, and with HP 18, it’s easy to see why that is the case. Everything that can be in a single malt is here: Fruit, Vanilla, oak, peat, the sea, sherry, burn. It has something for everybody but doesn’t go off one end (smoke and peat) or the other (fruit and sherry). The 12 year old edition is a balance of all those elements. The 18 tilts the seesaw more in the direction of the barrel, which is not surprising considering it has spent six years longer in said barrel than its sibling. This is accomplished without diminishing sweetness or pungent peat, which is brilliant. It is the epitome of the style associated with the Isles, although it is made in a different set of isles (the Orkneys) than Jura, Talisker, Tobermory and the rest.

The hurdle for me is the price. At $120, it’s not bad for a Single Malt of its age and quality, but it’s a big bite for my budget to take. If it were even $20 cheaper it would be highly recommended but at its current price it is still recommended.

If you want don’t want to pay that much to taste HP 18, do what I did. Look for one of the HP 12 bottles with the special bonus 50 ml bottle of 18 attached. That should only set you back a total of $50. You’re welcome, world.

Glenfarclas 12 y/o

Maker: Glenfarclas, Ballindalloch, Scotland, UK (J & G Grant)Glenfarcas 12

Region: Speyside, although the label describes it as “Highland”

Michigan State Minimum: $52

Appearance: Light gold (natural color) with long thin legs.

Nose: Sherry, barley bread, dried flowers, crème brûlée.

Palate: Medium bodied and desserty. Butterscotch, French lavender, oak, mace (the spice not the chemical weapon).

Finish: Fairly hot but sweet. Lingers on the lips for a short time.

Parting Words: Glenfarclas is one of the few truely independent malt distilleries left in Scotland. The Grant family (not to be confused with many other Grants making Scotch whisky) has owned Glenfarclas since the nineteenth century and they have continued to do things their own old fashioned way. They refer to their whisky as Highland on the label although most would refer to them as Speyside these days given their proximity to the Spey river. Their labels are simple, their bottles are butch and their range of malts is based primarily on age. In the U.S. a 10, 12, 17, 21, 25, 40 and a 105 proof cask strength NAS version. Also available (but very expensive) are the Family Cask series of vintage bottlings.

The 12 y/o Glenfarclas is a very good whisky.The packaging and marketing may be spartan, but the whisky is not. The distinctive earthy aromas of the older expressions are muted in the 12 , but are still there faintly in the sherry and oak. The result is a classic sherried Speyside profile of the heavier sort, like Balvenie or Mortlach. It’s an excellent after dinner sipper well suited to books and back porches. I don’t smoke cigars, but I have been told that it goes well with them as well.

$52 is a steal for a mature, quality single malt from anywhere these days. Nothing not to like about Glenfarclas 12. It is recommended.

Talisker Storm

Maker: Talisker, Carbost, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK (Diageo)
Talisker Storm

Region: Island

Age: NAS

ABV: 45.8%

Michigan State Minimum: $77

Appearance: Light caramel (likely colored)

Nose: Peat, dried flowers, smoke, alcohol, pine needles. Water brings out more smoke but doesn’t alter the flavor much otherwise.

On the palate: Full bodied and sweet. Smoke, cocoa powder, alcohol. Water brings out vanilla, white cake and then a burst of smoke.

Finish: Soot, alcohol, butterscotch candy, Mexican chocolate. Water doesn’t change much here.

Talisker Storm is a relatively new expression from Diageo. Price-wise it is situated between Talisker 10 y/o ($70 state minimum) and the Distiller’s Edition ($80). All three are bottled at the same proof. I have not had the Distiller’s Edition, so I can’t comment on how Storm compares to that, but Storm is definitely superior to the 10 y/o. Storm tastes more mature and shows better flavor integration than the 10, which seems to vacillate between sappy new make and murky maritime peat. Storm works better than the 10 as a gateway to Talisker and smoky Hebridean single malts in general. There is also a Dark Storm available in travel retail outlets that is aged in heavily charred casks.

If I have one criticism, it’s that it’s by-the-numbers with nothing in the way of surprises lurking in the nose or finish. That’s OK though, since it seems to be intended as a gateway or go-to type malt. It’s not cheap, but the price is firmly in line with comparable malts. If I have two criticisms, it’s that the label and packaging are cheesy.

In sum, I liked it, and could see myself buying it again. Talisker Storm is recommended. It’s worthwhile noting that this whiskyalso won Whisky Advocate’s Highland/Island Single Malt Scotch of the Year for 2013.

Glen Grant 16 y/o

Maker: Grent Grant, Rothes, Moray, Scotland, UK (Campari)

Region: Speyside- Rothes

ABV: 43%

Michigan State Minimum: $80

Appearance: Dark straw. Coats the inside of the glass with thick, gentle legs.Glen Grant 16

Nose: Green apple, sherry, caramel pear, lemon thyme. Water brings it together and brings out some light spice like sweet cinnamon and ginger and a firm but unobtrusive oak structure.

On the palate: Medium bodied and a little hot. Custard, butterscotch candy, caramel.

Finish: Hot but rich and sweet. Lingers for a long time.

Parting words: I don’t like sherry. I have tried to like it but I have never been able to develop a taste for it despite my heavily British genetic makeup.

My dislike of sherry has kept me away from Speyside single malts because of their traditionally heavy use of sherry casks and the resulting sherry flavors. I’m starting to rethink my aversion to Speysiders, though. This is a powerful, flavorful and well-balanced single malt. It is now my favorite Speyside single malt. It’s everything anybody could want in a Speyside malt. At $80 it’s not cheap but one could to worse for more. As frugal as I can be with whisky, I have never regretted buying Glen Grant 16. Highly recommended.