Tag Archive: 45-50% ABV


Isle Of Raasay: Hebridean Single Malt Lightly Peated (Scottish Island Single Malt Whisky: 46.4% ABV)

Visual:Pale gold with a touch of overripe banana skin colour. Moderate speed and thickness streaks come from the spirit.

Nose: Salt. Wet moss. Viscous alcohol. Raisins and dry sherry. Vanilla. Rye crackers. Brown bread. Touch of smoke. Alcoholic raspberries. Water makes peppery. Menthol touch and more smoke.

Body: Honey. Dry sherry. Red grapes. Strong alcohol. Slight sour green grapes. Dry beef slices into a more broth character. Fudge. Raspberry coolers. Slight dry alcohol. Water adds strawberry and more raspberries. Slightly oily.

Finish: Dried beef slices in crusty white bread. Smoke touches. Dry sherry. Touch of alcohol. Vanilla. Menthol touch. Peppery. Water brings out brown bread. Rye crackers. Slight oily. An orange juice touch. More water brings out a touch of malt chocolate.

Conclusion: Well this is an interesting one. There are a lot of different oak ageing influences, a mix of peated and unpeated and a new distillery to me here all in one package. So, how does this mix of things come out?

Well, let’s deal with the bad side of things first. There is still a rough edge to this spirit – expressed in ways that vary from a viscous alcohol in the aroma to a drier alcohol backing on the body giving a slight rough edge behind everything. I’m guessing it has enough younger spirit in this no age statement whisk to explain why it has some grain whisky like touches, which is not a good look in a single malt. None of these elements completely go away with water.

However, and this is a big however, there is so much going on here to examine. I don’t know if it maps mainly to the varied barrel ageings and is being used to overcompensate for those flaws mentioned, or it this is just part of the distilleries house character and will just expand and grow as time goes on, but there is a lot to get into here. I wonder if all their expressions with have similar complexity of barrel work or if we will ever get to see a more pure expression of the house style of whisky itself?

Anyway, Initially this has a salty, mossy, lightly smokey island character but that soon finds itself just another layer sitting on top of a red grapes and dry sherry character, which itself then opens up into alcohol soaked raspberries, sour grapes and a touch of orange. Already so much going on here. It is generally very dry, with evidence of that alcohol mentioned before but when you already have that dry spirity sherry character it seems less evident and sandwiched between the contrasting fruity character and light smoke you find it less intrusive than you would imagine.

Nothing in this whisky is very sweet – there are some fudge hints but it is more restrained in how it expressed that for the most part, and uses rye cracker and peppery notes to hold down any sweetness getting too present.

It results in a dry expression overall, with savoury notes and dry beef working its way around the core that somewhat call to a more gentle Islay . However that core is such very clear dry sherry and associated fruitier notes that this cannot be mistaken for an Islay, even a muted one.

So, this is rough edged and feels a tad youthful in places, but nestled in there is an expertise of barrel ageing that gives layers of Island salt and smoke over sherry and a dry fruitiness which is then over a peppery rye baseline and the whisky slips between and intermixes these three layers frequently.

An unpolished gem, but still high quality despite that. A good whisky as is, but my mind is on what they could do if they manage to smooth out those edges. I will keep my eye on this distillery in the future

Background: I tried the Raasay “While We Wait” a while back, which was not from Raasay, but more using other whiskies to try and express what they were aiming for. Anyway, having now tried this they are very different things, so whoops on that. Anyway, this, while not their first release, is their first regular release and I managed to grab a bottle from Independent Spirit before their stock ran out. Which it did. Very quickly. These seem to be in high demand. This is no age statement, natural colour and non chill filtered, but what makes it really interesting is the barrel ageing. This has a mix of both peated and unpeated whisky, both of which have been aged in rye whisky casks, chinkapin oak casks (I had to google that one – seems to be the new hotness of odd barrels for whisky ageing – a type of white oak native to central and eastern North America – couldn’t tell you yet what its influence is, but I am interested to learn), and Bordeaux red wine casks. That is a lot going on there. According to the box, this had a three to five day fermentation and uses mineral rich water that gives sweet blackberry characteristics before it even touches the oak. Would have to try some that had more standard ageing to be able to tell how true that is, but an interesting promise. I wanted some lovely music for trying this, so went with the ever experimental and wondrous Ulver – in this case “Flower’s Of Evil”. Probably my second favourite of their albums, and with the quality of their albums that says a lot.

Glenrothes: Whisky Maker’s Cut (Scottish Speyside Single Malt Whisky: 48.8% ABV)


Visual: Very dark, deep rich gold colour. Fast thick streaks come from the spirit.

Nose: Big. Treacle. Wisps of smoke. Tingling alcohol. Warm honey. Vanilla toffee. Cardamom spice. Nutmeg. Strawberry hints. Ginger. Cinnamon sticks to mulled spice. Apple. Gingerbread. Water adds toffee and fudge and a cleaner character. Lots of dry sherry. Grapes.

Body: Thick. Warming. Black cherry. Apple pie centres. Strawberry. wisp of smoke and dry peat. Dry meat to dry beef slices. Fudge. Cloves. Bitter red wine. Water adds lots of strawberries. Orange peel and orange crème. Treacle.

Finish: Cinnamon sticks. Cloves. Slightly numbing. Liquorice. Strawberry liqueur. Black cherry. Fortified red wine. Dried beef slices. Sulphur. Candle wax. Water adds orange crème and bitter chocolate.

Conclusion: Glenrothes is often overlooked it my opinion. Despite not often being peated (to the best of my knowledge) it often has this lightly smokey, dried meat touch that I would normally associate with peat but layered into a smooth and sweet spirit. It is a criminally overlooked distillery.

This takes that base idea, and punches it out at a higher abv and a just exploding level of sherry influence. Neat it is numbing, spicy and shows bitter red wine matched with mulled spice notes, underlined by a sulphurous wax candle touch. It is utterly huge, overwhelming but delicious. There are those wisps of smoke and dried meat I mentioned before, that I could swear calls to peat use if it wasn’t for a quick google suggesting I am probably wrong. However they are made they still manage to poke their way through the bigger flavours

Water smooths it out, it is still has sulphur and wax notes but the hinted at dark fruit and sherry that was there neat now take centre stage. There are lots of strawberry and black cherry notes, lots of evident dry sherry. This feels like the epitome of a sherry bomb, sherry aged whisky and the higher abv gives lots of room for water play.

This is sticky feeling, full flavoured and full bore. It reminds me of Aberlour A’bunadh in that it can be a bit much neat, though admittedly this is more restrained and at a lower abv – however it is a rewarding roller-coaster onslaught of flavour if you stick with it.

Very sherried, very red fruit, very spiced neat – less so with water, and just a hint of smoke. Subtle this is not, but very enjoyable it is.

Background: This was a gift from a colleague at work, very many thanks! It is listed as being bottled at abv chosen by the master whisky maker, not to be confused with cask strength, but significantly higher than a standard bottling. It has been matured in only first fill sherry casks. It comes in a showy little cardboard box as you can see, with a little plastic stand inside propping up the bottle inside it for best presentation. I went with Crossfaith: The Dream, the Space as backing music – while not their best album it has a lot of raw, early album energy.

Ardnamurchan: Release 2: AD/01.21.01 (Scottish Highland Single Malt Whisky: 5 Years: 46.8% ABV)

Visual: Light pale gold with quite fast, thick streaks coming from the spirit.

Nose: Sherry soaked raisins. Vanilla. Lime cordial air. Fatty butter. Charcoal dust. Water makes sooty and adds crumpets notes.

Body: Honey. Fatty butter. Charcoal dust and charred wood. Raisins to fruitcake. Dry sherry. Vanilla fudge. Water adds Madeira. Pink lemonade and menthol.

Finish: Charring. Burnt meat ends. Dust. Fatty butter. Slightly dry. Sultanas. Water makes more fruity to fruitcake. Light crushed peanuts. More soot. Pink lemonade.

Conclusion: Well, a bit of time to air has really opened this one up. As you can see I’m in the second half of the bottle as I’ve had it a while, and generally I find that a few weeks to let a whisky air can often really help. As mentioned in the background, I’ve been a bit rubbish at this recently.

But! This is not about me, this is about whisky. So, how is it?

When I first tried this the thing I noticed most was that it was kind of fatty butter thick and slightly harsh in its soot character against the vanilla background. It was ok, interesting – especially in the texture, but generally not one I would recommend.

As mentioned, time has really opened it up. From far more raisins coming out in the aroma, to a more balanced level of fatty character in the body, to Madeira notes coming out. This now has a lot more dark fruit balancing out the dry, sooty smoke character that initially made the whisky quite harsh.

The fatty character is still there, especially later on in the body and into the finish. It gives a lot of weight and grip which is good, but the flavour of it is not quite for me. The flavour becomes a lot more evident with water, so bear that in mind if you are of similar mind.

Even odder, but more favourable to me, is that the water adds a kind of lemon and raspberry sweet note that I can best describe as pink lemonade like. Which I think is a new for me in tasting notes. Probably. I have done a LOT of notes by now. Anyway, you end up with smoke and soot, over a fatty thickness, into sweet raisins and citrus sweet pink lemonade over dry sherry. It is a weird mash up.

I think I prefer it neat though. The fatty character is more balanced, the sherry influence pleasant and still a solid vanilla character against the soot. With water is admittedly far more interesting, but also far less balanced.

A good chewy whisky, not a must have at this point as it is either solid or super interesting but never manages to marry the two. It is still a very good start for this distillery.

Background: So, I had nearly completed my attempt to try whisky from every active malt whisky distillery in Scotland (and a fair chunk of silent ones). Anyway, a whole bunch of new ones have opened up and a reasonable amount of them are actually putting bottled whisky out now. My task is never done. This is one of them, Ardnamurchan’s second release which I managed to snag from Independent Spirit before their stock vanished. As you can probably tell from the bottle I have had this a while. My taste note taking skills are dropping with ever month of this darn virus outbreak, but I am trying to keep lethargy from setting in. In good news, had my first shot now, half way to full vaccination! There is no age statement on the bottle, but a bit of googling gave the five years listed here. Similarly it told me this is aged in 65% bourbon wood and 35% a mix of PX and Oloroso sherry casks, which is nice information to know. Went with the ever haunting David Bowie: Black Star as background music when drinking.

Convalmore: 1984: Special Release 2017 (Scottish Speyside Single Malt Whisky: 32 Years: 48.2% ABV)

Visual: Pale apple juice to gold colour. A few initial streaks come from the spirit followed by very slow puckering.

Nose: Vanilla. Soft praline. Apples. Soft white grape juice touch. Water adds a sulphur and burnt matches style. More water gives orange zest and pear drops. Madeira. Cinnamon spiced apples.

Body: Initially numbing. Oak. Grassy. Dry. Peppery. More water adds Madeira and watered down spiced rum. Spiced red grapes. Cinnamon apples. Gunpowder tea. Caramel. Cinder toffee. Very mild molasses touch.

Finish: Charring. Roasted chestnuts. Water adds sugared almonds, nut bars and a salty touch. More water makes spicier. Dry red wine. Chocolate cake. Gunpowder tea. Cinder toffee. Creamy.

Conclusion: This is very smooth, and in general a robust one, with a lot heavier nut character that I expected from a Speyside whisky. It is also an example that, even in an over 30 years old whisky, water still does the job!

While water is needed later on, the aroma always had what it takes. Smooth as silk, showing green fruit mixed with vanilla sweetness. It was pretty much exactly what I would expect of the region and the age, if not more than that.

Thus I was surprised when I took a sip and found out how dry and, while not harsh, kind of numbing the main body was. The flavour was very nutty with lots of oak influence making it woody, with little else in play. It felt like such a let down from the nose.

Similarly the finish was nutty, slightly rough, and unexpectedly slightly salty. The state of the body and finish felt like an utter let down for something this old, expensive and with a decent nose.

So, anyway, I added water and…

It was better, still simple and nutty, but now a bit spicier. However the backing seemed to become more harsh – the additional green fruit notes made it better but it was hard to appreciate it against the harsher notes.

So, heck, I may have only 3cl of these, but you only live once. So I added more water, risking flooding it, aaaand.

This is now soooo goooood. No, seriously. Like it is such a change, and such a jump in quality I found it hard to believe it. Wine like and spiced rum notes come out along with spiced fruit, toffee and many spirits. More green fruit. A creamier feel. It doesn’t feel like the same whisky at all.

It has still got a few of those salty, heavier charring and gunpowder tea notes at the back, along with a fair set of tannins, but now they seem balanced as there is so much more available to contrast that. Now it is rich, with lots of dessert like notes, Speyside fresh fruitiness, smooth with lots to examine and so easy to drink despite the harsh underline.

This needs water so much, but get it right and it is great. Still just a touch over harsh, but only minorly so, and apart from that it is great.

Just avoid it neat.

Background: Convalmore is another dead distillery, and therefore one of the few distilleries in Scotland I had yet to try. It seems to be a long lived one, closing finally in 1985, with, oddly, no official bottlings at the time – all the stock went into blends. This is one of the few official bottling that have come out since and one that there was no way I could afford a full bottle of. So, I recently had the chance to treat myself and took advantage of the fact that The Whisky Exchange was selling 3cl samples. It makes it very expensive per cl, but hey, it is pretty much the only way I was going to get to try something from the distillery. A quick google says this won Jim Murray’s best single scotch whisky 28-34 years. For what that is worth. Went with Prodigy: No Tourists for background music. May not seem like a match for this whisky but, screw it, I only just found out it existed and wanted more Prodigy. That is the whole reason.

Waterford: Single Farm Origin: Ballymorgan 1.1 (Irish Single Malt Whisky: 50% ABV)

Visual: Pale gold. A very varied mix of streaks come from the spirit – from slow puckering, fast sheet like chunks and thin streaks.

Nose: Lively. Alcohol is noticeable. Strawberry. Tart rhubarb. Pear drops. Nail polish. Butterscotch and vanilla toffee. Heather. Honeycomb. Water smooths to tart white grapes.

Body: Tingling. A young spirit feel. Pears. Peppery touch. Gooseberry. Dry rhubarb. Lightly waxy. Strawberry crème. Water adds vanilla custard. Sweet green grapes. Toffee.

Finish: Peppery. Malt chocolate to choc orange. Sweeter rhubarb. Strawberry crème. Water adds chocolate toffee and choc lime.

Conclusion: Damn I love this. Ok, maybe I should have saved that for the end, as I have just given everything away but… damn I love this!

So, to balance out that wild enthusiasm (this is 2020 you know, we can’t be having any enthusiasm or happiness) let’s get the bad points out of the way first. Neat this feels slightly young in a few elements of its character. Now it doesn’t have an age statement, and it it is fairly smooth (I would presume from Irish triple distilling practices, but their website seems to indicate they do a double distillation, so what do I know), but the character does have a few elements that would make me think this is pretty young. It is partly from a few rough edges, evident if not too harsh alcohol, considering the 50% abv – but more than that it has a very bright flavour profile which I associate with young whisky. So, it doesn’t have the refined character you may expect for the cost.

Now, water does smooth a lot of this out, but also changes the character massively as we are about to examine.

Neat it has that bright, youthful spirit character. It is very lively and very fruity – coming out as pear drops, rhubarb, gooseberry and the like over a quite clean base, with slight peppery notes. It is slightly rough, but generally all about those bright notes. Even with those rough edges it is utterly wonderful to explore and surprisingly easy to drink considering the abv.

Water changes it to a still interesting, but completely different style. Now there are loads of vanilla, toffee and some malt chocolate notes at the base. Far smoother, and sweeter, with far less fruit – though there is still a little there as high notes to contrast.

Neat is more exciting, and with far more to examine, but is rougher. Water is smoother and has a new complexity, but loses a lot of what really makes the neat whisky stand out. Both are worthy experiences and with those two options this stands out as a whisky with a great range of experiences – If this is what single terrior does then I am all for it. An absolute gem that I can recommend without hesitation.

Background: Now this caught my eye. I was lacking a bottle of Irish Whiskey in the cupboard, and I always try to keep one to hand, then this range popped up. A bunch of different whiskeys from Waterford, all concentration on the concept of “terrior ” so all the barley is from a single farm, in this case Ballymorgan.

Now I knew nothing about this difference in farms, so grabbed one pretty much at random, but the concept intrigued me. There is even a specific terrior code on the back you can enter on their website to find out more about the area, which is a nice touch. So, time to find out if it makes a difference. Anyway, this was grabbed from Independent Spirit and drunk while listening to Dan Le Sac’s These People Are Idiots – lovely chilled beats to drink to – I recommend checking it out.

Cooper’s Choice: Glen Esk: 1984: Limburg Whisky Fair (Scottish Highland Single Malt Whisky: 31 Year: 49.5% ABV)

Visual: Pale, slight yellow gold colour. Slow thick streaks come from the spirit.

Nose: Tingling alcohol. Vanilla. Pencil shavings. Toffee. Soft lime sorbet. Oak. Water makes cleaner. Lightly grassy. Still notable alcohol.

Body: Strong alcohol. Fatty butter. Vanilla. Peppery. Toffee. Water adds light strawberry. Still an alcohol presence. Pear drops. Polish air.

Finish: Fatty butter. Peppery. Oak. Alcohol tingle. Water adds tinned tropical fruit. A polish air. Flour dusted baps. Soft lemon sorbet.

Conclusion: This is very, well, neutral. At 49.5% abv I was expecting a bit of alcohol, so the alcohol weight is not a problem, but with 30 years in the oak I have to admit I was expecting it to be smoothed just a bit, and made into something more complex than what we have here.

It shows the weight mainly through alcohol and a fatty buttery feel – the cask strength and non chill filtered character means that there is a lot or raw, oily, fatty character there, but unfortunately it seems not much else.

It is a peppery, vanilla and toffee thing at its core. Some of which is expected character from the bourbon ageing, but, again, considering the time in the wood this has had I would expect more to it than that. The raw oak character is there fairly heavily, stomping into the spirit.

Overall it is, adequate I guess, water never really removed the rough character, though it does give more lemon and lime sorbet character over time. The peak in interesting and unusual notes is a strawberry touch that comes out from time to time, but 90% of the time it is generic vanilla, peppery and oak. It is not actively bad, it is just average, and for the cost, age and available abv, it needs and deserves more.

If this sums up the Glen Esk/Hillside experience then I can see why they went under.

Background: So, every now and then I can afford to get one of the dead distilleries I have not tried before. So, this is another one – Glen Esk, a distillery also called Hillside sometimes – that has been closed since 1985. I went with this one as it seemed fairly reasonably priced for a dead distillery, especially considering the age and cask strength, non chill filtered as well which is nice. Also as a bourbon cask aged one, I figured it would show more of the distilleries base character. It was grabbed from The Whisky Exchange a while back, and saved for a special occasion. Then lockdown hit and I though … fuck it. So here we are. This is one of 240 bottles, bottled for the Limburg Whisky Fair – which I know nothing about. Put on IDLES new album while drinking – Ultra Mono. I prefer their second album so far, but still a good album.

Maker’s Mark: Makers 46 (USA: Bourbon: 47% ABV)

Visual: Very deep reddened bronze colour. Fast and thick sheet of streak comes from the spirit.

Nose: Warm honey. Vanilla. Shredded wheat. Lightly peppery. Slight stewed apricot. Caramel. Water adds custard slice touch.

Body: Strawberry crème. Warm golden syrup. Vanilla toffee liqueur. Thick. Oaken underneath. Water makes smoother. Some alcohol jelly like touch. More vanilla. Cherry pocked biscuits. Liquorice touch.

Finish: Honey. Vanilla sheen. Toffee liqueur. Oak. Water gives a grape touch. Jelly. Shredded wheat.

Conclusion: This feels like Maker Mark’s bigger, smoother, more fulfilling brother. What I am saying is it is more bangable basically.

Neat it feels like warm honey and golden syrup drizzled over cereal. It still has that kind of rustic feel I associate with Maker’s Mark, but with the sweetness shoved way up. The extra alcohol strength , as well as upping the thickness of mouthfeel, also seems to have given it room for some odder notes to make themselves known. From strawberry notes, to cherry biscuits hints hanging around in the thick, heavy texture, there is a bit more variety – it doesn’t give release from the sweetness, but adds more depth to the thick, sweet character.

Neat is has a kind of weight that gives away that it has the higher alcohol content; Not a burn, just an unusual thickness. Water takes it into a smoother, more drinkable dram – closer to standard Maker’s Mark but still with more complexity.

Maker’s Mark has always been a go to bourbon for me for general drinking, and this, while still a touch one track minded, is more complex, more satisfying and more weighty without moving outside of the general drinking field. It feels like it pays off all the promise standard Maker’s Mark had.

It isn’t super complex but as a sipping bourbon this is excellent.

Background: Now the question I was asking myself was, why “46”? Especially as it is 47% abv, which was going to be my first guess. Well it is Maker’s Mark, but a version finished with oak staves. The fact that they were only used for finishing means that it still counts as bourbon – I think that for standard ageing they would not be allowed. Anyway I googled it, apparently this was a result of experiments with French toasted oak labelled “Stave Profile No. 46”. So they kept that as a name, because the marketing team was out at lunch or something I guess. Anyway – been a fan of Maker’s Mark for a while, since it got me through America when craft beer was hard to find – so tried this at The Star a while back and enjoyed it – they have a fair decent whisky selection at a decent price. This bottle was grabbed from Independent Spirit. Went with the new Ulver album for backing music – the wonderful sounds of “Flowers Of Evil”. Amazing as always.

Douglas Lain: The Epicurean – Cognac Cask Finish (Scottish Lowland Blended Malt: 48% ABV)

Visual: Pale, slightly greened gold, with fast, thick streaks coming from the body.

Nose: Honey. Pencil shavings. Vanilla. Stewed apricots. Cognac. Warming. Green grapes. Nasal hair tingling alcohol. Apple. Water adds slight oak. Makes cleaner and lighter. Adds more grapes and apple.

Body: Slick feel but warming. Honey. Custard. Slightly syrupy. Green grapes. Marmalade. Apple pie filling. Vanilla toffee. Light moss. Peach. Water adds more apple. Some pear. Brown sugar and cake sponge.

Finish: Marmalade. Cognac. Apple pie filling. Shaved wood. Quite dry. Gin air. Water adds pear. More evident lowland character. Brown sugar. Teabags and tannins.

Conclusion: This one took a good long while for it to air properly and open up. My first dram poured from this a few weeks back was very cognac dominated, very alcohol touched and the whisky was pretty much lost beneath the finishing wood. You basically got whisky feeling cognac but not much else. Fun, and a laugh to try, but not one I could overly recommend.

Things have changed since then.

Even drunk neat this is smoother than before- the lowland cleanness giving a lighter take to the thickness that the cognac gives. Together they become a smooth but surprisingly weighty dram for a lowland whisky.

It really shows its flavour range as well now. There is very definite cognac, especially those marmalade like sweet notes, and it mixes with the whisky base to show apricot and peach bright notes. However the base lowland style is now easier to notice. It show slightly mossy, clean and green fruit notes and makes it much more easy going that the sweet cognac backing.

Water brings out a lot more of the lowland character. It is still coming out with big, big sweetness, but now the whisky character actually is, just about, in the forefront. There is much more green fruit – especially apples. It is slightly sulphur touched, and kind of tannins touched in a way that doesn’t suit the sweetness in the finish, and that is probably the only weak point of the whisky. Not automatically bad elements but they don’t match, and the finish is a bit of let down with that. Here is where it is a tad more alcohol touched and rough.

Still, a very fun whisky and generally well developed. Probably best neat, or with just a drop of water to open it up. Let’s face it, if you bought this the concept of a cognac whisky is what you wanted, and taken neat or near neat that is what you get, just a bit smoother and more complex than that sounds and far more than the early days of opening.

Open it up, give it some time, and this will reward you in the end. A weak finish, but great cognac meets whisky front and middle.

Background: Another blended malt (or vatted malt as I prefer the term) – a mix of single malts from different distilleries with no grain whisky. In this case all lowland whiskies, which tend to be triple distilled – a common technique in Ireland but uncommon in Scotland. It tends to give a lighter, more easy drinking feel. This is quite an unusual variant on the Epicurean, having been finished in Cognac casks. I mainly grabbed it for that as I was intrigued on what that finish would do. This is one of only 402 bottles and was grabbed from Independent Spirit. Went back to At The Drive in: Relationship Of Command to listen to while drinking. Again I think I really should buy at least one more of their albums…

Ardbeg: Blaaack: Committee 20th Anniversary (Scottish Islay Single Malt Whisky: 46% ABV)

Visual: Deep dark gold colour with fast, thick streaks coming from the spirit.

Nose: Smoke. Wet wood. Crushed red grapes. Salt. Black and red liquorice. Medicinal touch. Slight green grapes. Pencil shavings. Salty rocks. Slight charring. Brown sugar. Water adds oily peat notes and a touch of tar.

Body: Blueberry. Salt. Wet rocks. Warming alcohol. Cake sponge. Charring. Earthy wine character. Water adds caramel. Soot. Fig rolls. More blueberry. Some subtle cherries.

Finish: Smoke. Soot. Bitter chocolate dust. Plums. Earthy. Fig rolls. Water adds dust balls. Blueberry. Charring. More bitter chocolate and a medicinal touch.

Conclusion: Ok, I’m a known Ardbeg fan, and with that taken as fact, this is still, in fact, something special.

For one it is a good quality Ardbeg – peaty, sooty, heavy, lightly medicinal and slightly dry. The Pinot Noir ageing hasn’t overwhelmed or replaced any of the distinctive Ardbeg qualities. The alcohol is present but never intrusive, even taken without water.

Neat it has an interesting look at the Pinot Noir influence. There are some red grape notes, but it has a kind of earthy wine character that reminds me of the European takes rather than the fruitier NZ Pinot Noir that they used for ageing. It adds a fruity but heavy note to the dram.

Water brings out a completely different interpretation of the wine notes. It is sweeter, with blue fruit, figs and most notably blueberry. It is subtle in how it works – the front is all Ardbeg but it has these dark fruit rounding notes that just take it to another level.

Unlike some of the committee releases – one that I still adore – this really plays to traditional Ardbeg strengths and just enhances it. A bit deeper, a bit more rounded, but not such a surprise as , say, Drum was.

If you know Ardbeg, it is that, but earthier, sweeter and slightly smoother. Utterly amazing. I could talk more, but I would probably just end up repeating myself. Flaws? Well it isn’t as good as the XOP Ardbeg 1992, but what is? And this isn’t stupid money to buy.

Are you an Ardbeg fan? If you see it, try it if you can.

Background: Another year, another Committee release, and Ardbeg have gone with something very interesting for their 20th anniversary. Pinot Noir aged Ardbeg. Now they don’t say Pinot Noir finished, so I presume at least some of the whisky is completely aged in Pinor Noir casks, but I could be wrong. Also I didn’t managed to try the cask strength version to compare like I did with Ardbeg Drum a while back. A pity, would have been cool to compare. Anyway, I love Ardbeg – Pinot Noir is one of the few wines I can recognise easily, so grabbing this from Independent Spirit was a certainty for me. Of note, the bottle is as black as its name – you have to hold it up to direct light and look carefully to be able to tell how much whisky you have left in there. A minor annoyance. Went with heavy music to back this – the hardcore punk of Gallows: Orchestra of Wolves.

Gordon & MacPhail: Discovery Range: Tormore 13 Year (Scottish Speyside Single Malt Whisky: 13 Year: 43% ABV)

Visual: Pale apple juice colour. Very slow puckering into medium thickness streaks come from the spirit.

Nose: Barley biscuits. Lightly metallic. Vanilla. Pencil shavings. Apples and pears. Slight nail varnish. Sugar dusting. Rock dust. Water makes softer, with more green fruit and some pastry notes. Methanol touch.

Body: Vanilla fudge. Metallic alcohol touch. Pear note. Woody. Black peppery. Apple jam. Water makes softer. Custard. Pineapples. More green fruit.

Finish: Oak. Light charring and black pepper. Metallic. Strawberry cream touch. Notable alcohol. Malt chocolate. Fudge. Water adds melted chocolate toffee and menthol.

Conclusion: The first time I tried this, on first opening the bottle, I was not impressed. Slightly alcoholic, rough and not much flavour was the impression I got. It really felt like one to relegate to bulking up a blended whisky kind of malt.

So, now I have given it a few days to air, which tends to help, and there have been some changes going on here. Now, let’s be harsh first, cos the whisky sure is some times (Ba-dum-tch)

This is weirdly metallic with notable alcohol expressed – especially in the air of the finish. There is also a kind of nail varnish touch, so lots of odd off elements are expressed throughout.

So, yeah, still lots of issues with this. Water does help mellow the bad points, but they are still there – especially if you add too much water and go past the sweet spot where the rough notes come back with a vengeance. There is definitely a tipping point here when it comes to water.

However now, with a bit of time to air, there is some flavour to be found in there. Now you have soft apples, pears and general green fruit over a sweet toffee and custard base. Just a touch of water gives it a good grip and gets rid of the worst of the issues.

So, it is not a total write off now but, damn, I can’t recommend this. I can have a dram and not complain now I already have a bottle – but it has too many rough edges and too little in return for me to recommend getting a bottle to anyone else.

Not a good first impression for the distillery.

Background: This is one of the few, still running, single malt distilleries in Scotland that I have yet to try. So I grabbed a bottle. Went with Gordon & MacPhail as they have been good to me with their independent bottlings. This has been aged solely in bourbon casks so should be a quite clean expression of the spirit’s nature. This was bought from The Whisky Exchange, and drunk to the background of my mates playing Dungeons and Dragons over Skype as part of a lockdown catch up.

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