Tag Archive: Gordon and MacPhail


the-macphail-collection-balblair-10-year

The Macphail Collection: Balblair: 10 Year (Scottish Highland Single Malt Whisky: 10 Year: 43% ABV)

Visual: Pale greened grain.

Viscosity: Quite fast thick streaks.

Nose: Husked grain. Smooth. Lime. Vanilla. Water changes little.

Body: Light alcohol touch. Slightly empty. Murky water. Water adds vanilla, white chocolate and vanilla toffee. Lime touch. Honey. More water adds raisins and spiced red wine.

Finish: Oak. Malt chocolate. Alcohol sheen. Murky water. Water adds white chocolate. Honey. Gin air and juniper berries. More water adds spiced red wine.

Conclusion: This seems extremely non distinctive for a whisky, especially for a Balblair. I’ve only had a couple of run ins with the distillery, but every one has stood out, and also stood on their own two feet. This – less so.

Without water it actually feels pretty empty. Alcohol touched but not heavily so, with just a kind of murky taste. If you take your time to let it open up then you do manage to get some hints of what I presume is the bourbon side of the ageing – white chocolate comes out and such like. However it is still indistinct and pretty bad as a whisky, let alone a Balblair whisky.

So let’s jump straight on to after we have added that often game changer – water! That makes it better, right? Yes. Yes it does. That makes it worth drinking, right? No. No it really doesn’t.

It brings out what feels like some sherry barrel influence – as opposed to the slight burbon influence that showed up neat. There is slight spiced red wine and raisins – nothing too unusual and far less distinct than in nearly every other sherry touched whisky I have tried. More water brings out a tad more of this, but also makes everything else even less distinct.

It isn’t actually painful (unlike, say Isawa whiskey) but it is bad. Probably duller than the Tamdhus I have encountered. I generally like Balblair, but this does nothing for me.

A let down and a bad whisky.

Background: Saw this miniature at Corks Of Cotham when I was up there recently – lovely wee place. You don’t see many miniatures of independent bottlings, nor of Balblair, so fished it out and grabbed it. Put some The Kominas – Wild Nights In Guantanamo Bay on while drinking. That album is 8 years old now – Wish a lot of the themes in it about anti Islam sentiment weren’t still as relevant today as they were back then.

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Connoisseurs Choice Tomatin 1997
Connoisseurs Choice: Tomatin: 1997 (Scottish Highland Single Malt Whisky: 17 Year: 46% ABV)

Visual: Thick grain to light gold.

Viscosity: Very many thin, very slow streaks.

Nose: Caramel. Stewed fruit. Thick alcohol. Wheat husks. Oatmeal. Water brings feathers, but more water adds tropical fruit and pineapple.

Body: Soft vanilla. Noticeable alcohol. Salted fudge. Water adds custard and white chocolate. Still warming in the alcohol. Sugared almonds. More water removes heat, adds pineapple and more white chocolate.

Finish: Honey. Stewed apricot. Fudge and white chocolate. Water makes honey nut cornflakes. Lightly salty. Tropical fruit tins and lightly oily. More water makes more white chocolate, grapes and a hint of raisins.

Conclusion: Tomatin always seem surprisingly wide ranging in the notes it hits – it comes in first with a simple, easily catchable hook up front, but it you pay attention you find much more going on behind the scenes.

Initially big on caramel sweetness and stewed fruit it plays on the sweetness heavily. Water helps bring out the aforementioned range – the whisky has been very evidently influenced by the bourbon ageing – lots of tropical fruit and white chocolate, all very fresh and bright. The only thing that could fool me into thinking this was a sherry barrel is slight subtle raisins notes in the finish. Everything else shouts bourbon. However, while this is good, we have seen many whiskies that are good at showing the barrel ageing, what interests me here are the more subtle notes.

One of the subtleties is the light saltiness. Neat it comes across as salted fudge or caramel – adding an interesting aspect to a sweet whisky. The other noteworthy subtlety is a slight oiliness. A sheen that keeps the whisky clinging and the flavours delivering for a very long time.

When I tried the partially virgin oak aged Tomatin I took the heavy white chocolate influence to be from the fresh oak – however here is still shines through. Guess it must be more how the natural spirit acts when influenced by the bourbon cask.

On the downside neat it is, while not harsh, still very obviously alcohol influenced – though water deals with that easily enough. So, overall, while not overly surprising, it is a very tasty, smooth (with water) whisky with just those slight oddities that manage to make it stand on its own two legs. A subtle twist on a good example of bourbon ageing.

Background: Bottled 2014, which by my estimation puts this at 17 years, though may be off a tad depending on exact dates. Grabbed from Independent Spirit, this gives me a chance to expand my exposure to Tomatin in miniature format. Gordon and MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice have always been a great independent bottler, so I trusted that I would get something worthwhile here. Drunk while listening to some Sabaton – I saw them live recently, awesome as always, so have been kicking back with some of their albums.

Connoisseurs Choice Inchgower 1993

Connoisseurs Choice: Inchgower 1993 (Scottish Speyside Single Malt Whisky: 18 year: 43% ABV)

Visual: Toffee touched grain.

Viscosity: Many medium sized streaks.

Nose: Very oaken. Heather. Slightly dusty. Pepper seeds. Empty tea cups. Water makes peppery and other dry spice.

Body: Light lemon front, rapidly becoming oaken. Tingling alcohol. Salty dryness. Light sweet syrup. Water smoothes a little, peppery rather than oaken.

Finish: Dusty. Oaken. Toffee touch. Dry and drying. Water makes peppery and lime notes come out.

Conclusion: It is rare to find a bad whisky, there are whiskies that aren’t as good as other whiskies, and there are some that are a slight let down, but very few are genuinely bad. Outside of the worst of the cheapest blends that is.

This one isn’t genuinely bad, but it comes a hell of a lot closer than most do. It is just so dry and oaken, like all the interesting elements seeped into the oak and just got oaken notes in response. After making up my thoughts for what I was going to write for these notes I took a look in a few whisky books to see if this was an intended character – mostly listed astringent and slightly salty as deliberate house character – so, while I did not like it, it looks like this is what they are aiming for. Still doesn’t taste good to me.

It feels drying and kind of empty, with a general spirit character. Water turns from oaken to peppery, and while this is an improvement, when something tastes like a condiment that should be added to meal rather than the actual dish itself then it is a bad sign. Then again, it could be good for soaking meat in overnight – albeit in a kind of expensive way of doing that. There are probably cheaper ways.

There are some softer notes there, lemon and lime backing, but they are mostly lost in the fray. Maybe it has its place, and probably its fans, but it tastes like just salt and peppered fish skin to me – which can be great as part of a range, as many Islay whisky have show – but here it is pretty much the only element. So, not a fan.

Background: Miniatures experimentation time! Yep, Inchgower is yet another Distillery I had not tried before. I am really racking through them at the moment. This one was bottled in 2011 and grabbed from The Whisky Exchange as part of a set I had grabbed a while back.

Connoisseurs Choice Glendullan 1997

Connoisseurs Choice: Glendullan 1997 (Scottish Speyside Single Malt Whisky: 14 Year: 43% ABV)

Visual: Pleasant light gold.

Viscosity: A mix of very slow and very fast thin streaks.

Nose: Thick. Slight sulphur. Alcohol tingle. Nutty and lightly oily. Undertone of sweet chilli chocolate and nougat. Water makes somewhat floral.

Body: Thick and oily. Warming and tingling alcohol. Chilli seeds. Nut oil. vanilla custard. Praline. Light orange liqueur. Water smoothes, dropping the initial burn. Brings out nut oil and chocolate.

Finish: Malt drink. Oak. Chilli. Praline. Chestnuts. Chocolate. toffee. Water makes smoother and nuttier.

Conclusion: This is a bit of a hidden gem it seems. Hidden both in that you don’t see many bottlings around, and also that it takes a bit of time and water to get it to open up nicely.

Initially there is a bit of alcohol burn and an almost chilli tingle, noticeably oily and thick, but in general hard to get a good grasp on. Time is the first thing to aid it, a short wait brings out a light nuttiness which this the first thing to breach through, along with a malt chocolate character. It is a still a bit over warming, but builds to a praline, nut and vanilla combination. Not entirely unlike a sweeter Strathisla if you need a rough comparison.

Water takes it the next step, dousing the alcohol burn but not that chilli feel below, leading to a warming chilli chocolate style under a very smooth interpretation of the praline and nut character. Here, with a bare dribbling of water, it is luxurious, balancing warming and luxury class chocolate. It feels like a night cap drink, yet with that wake up call chilli tingle, relaxing yet invigorating.

Frankly it is…wait for it.. Frankly it is…

Not a dull-an

HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHA..hahahah…ha…

Oh, forget it.

Background: Bottled 2011. Connoisseurs Choice have been a very reliable go to for independent bottlings, and do a nice range of miniatures as well. This is another distillery that is new to me, so tried in the mini range. Drunk whilst chilling to little Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Lovely haunting stuff, and great for kicking back with a whisky. This was grabbed at the same time that I ordered a whisky from The Whisky Exchange.

Connoisseurs Choice Auchroisk 1996

Gordon and Macphail: Connoisseurs Choice: Auchroisk 1996 (Scottish Highland Single Malt Whisky: 18 Year: 46% ABV)

Visual: Pale grain gold.

Viscosity: Thin slow puckering.

Nose: Heather. Vanilla toffee. Gooseberry. Quite thick. With water becomes lighter with apple notes.

Body: Vanilla custard. Mandarin orange. Gooseberry. White grapes. Thick feel. Apples. Toffee. Slight muskiness. Sweeter with water, bringing out caramel and honey.

Finish: Gooseberry. Soft vanilla. Dry oak. Cake sponge. Apples. Water enhances the green fruit and adds honey. Also yellow raspberries, greenery and sulphur touch.

Conclusion: This is a very green fruit whisky, and half manages to deceive you into thinking it is a gentle one. Ok, deceive is not quite the right word, brings negative connotations with it, let me explain.

This is smooth, no alcohol burn evident and only a gentle warming feel to show the alcohol presence. The flavours are smooth, green fruit and toffee, so you can see how you would think that everything is pushing towards a soft gentle whisky.

However, it feels thick, with musky notes and that mouthfeel, similar to what you get from the hairs on freshly picked raspberries. I can’t quite work out if it works overall, if it benefits or weakens the whisky, but it is definitely distinctive.

It seems to result in the flavours feeling more melded and less individually sharp, but with water the gooseberry still pokes through, so it doesn’t hide the flavours. I would say over time a clearer spirit would probably have made it easier to drink, but less unique.

Overall a pleasant, and slightly odd take on the green fruit whisky, but one that feels slightly muted by its weight. Not bad and a bit different.

Background: Bottled 2014. Grabbed from The Whisky Exchange as, well, I was buying a standard size bottle so thought I may as well grab a bunch of minis from distilleries I had not tried at the same time. By the way, Canada beer reviews will return, but I thought I would put up a whisky review so whisky fans are not left out. Drunk while listening to Lada Laika: Dream Machine, because I enjoy listening to the fun chiptune style stuff online.

Connoisseurs Choice Ledaig 1998

Connoisseurs Choice: Ledaig 1998 (Scotland Island Single Malt Whisky: 16 Years: 46% ABV)

Visual: Light grain gold.

Viscosity: Very slow moderate sized streaks.

Nose: Peat smoke and beef broth. Radishes. Smoked fish skin. Light salt and medicinal. Cinder toffee. Water makes more grassy.

Body: Peach and peat. Light alcohol burn. Lime notes. Melted chocolate. Smooth texture. Dried apricot. Vanilla custard notes. Water makes grassier, with more peat. Sea weed.

Finish: Oily fish skins. Dry beef. Peat and smoke. Light alcohol tingle. Water adds salt and rocks.

Conclusion: Ledaig – always good to return to this, one of those in the unusual set of a smooth ,fruity, peated whisky. Peach and peat is not exactly a tasting note I expected to ever need, but there it is, clear as day.

It doesn’t open up that way, the aroma is all peat smoke and beef broth – but as soon as you get to the main body those fruity Tobermory notes are there – evident as can be. They work easily with rather than against the peat, creating the impression of a wonderfully fruity sauce layered over thin cut smoked beer. Very nice.

I always find it odd to have a whisky where the water actually makes the whisky harsher – however it does that here. Though it doesn’t make it harsher in the alcohol rising, but in that the flavours tend to wards the harsher end of the spectrum. It becomes more grassy, and the peat becomes much more evident. The grassy character that comes out makes me think of some of the Springbank expressions that exist – Overall I’d say take it easy with the water – it works much better as a peat touched fruity whisk than as a sub optimal more heavily peat touched whisky with water.

Taken as that it is a lovely whisky, smooth, balanced – forceful and fruity. This continues to expand my respect for both Ledaig and Gordon and Macphail.

Background: Another chance to grab miniatures to try a wider range of whiskies. This one from Gordon and Macphails excellent Connoisseurs Choice range. Ledaig is the peated version of Tobermory. This was bottled in 2014. Ok, I think that about covers it.

Connoisseurs Choice Aultmore 1995

(UPDATE: As was pointed out to me in the comments. This is a Speyside. I have no idea why I thought it was Highland. The bottle should have been a give away. Let’s just pretend I was doing some clever dada anti-art piece and be done with it)

Connoisseurs Choice: Aultmore 1995 (Scottish Speyside Single Malt Whisky: 12 Years: 43% ABV)

Visual: Pale grain.

Viscosity: Quite fast medium thickness streaks.

Nose: Pencil shavings. Alcohol. Heather. Water adds rice cakes.

Body: Lime and kiwi. Toffee. Tangerine. Soft custard. Lightly oily. Water smoothes but keeps the same general character for the most part. Adds apples, nut oils and nut chocolate.

Finish: Malt chocolate. Orange and tangerine. Nut oils. Water makes more sharp orange, but generally similar.

Conclusion: This seems to be the first Highland whisky I could have mistaken for a Speyside. To my memory at least. While it has that robust sweetness I see a lot in Highland whisky, I was more drawn towards the fruity notes that seemed at the forefront. If this had been a Speyside whisky I would have called it prototypical for the area, as it is, I’m now just puzzled.

It’s all in the main body, as the aroma did little to amuse me – the main body however, especially with water, though that is not required – is rock solid.

There is a soft but solid toffee backing, and a mix of soft green and fresh orange fruit all tied up in a nut oil bow. It’s hardly pushing the envelope, but it is a letter sent straight to “get the job done street”.

This is, therefore, the job done, not a masterpiece, but, ya know, done. Admittedly it seems like Speyside rather than Highland job, but if the job is done I don’t complain.

My metaphors may be getting a tad hard to follow again…

All in all a solid dram, and one that will win your enjoyment, but not awards.

Background: Yay for tiny bottles, yay for Connoisseurs Choice. Or in other words, more exploring distilleries I haven’t tried before. The 12 year age is based on some googling, which indicates it was bottled 2007, as the miniatures don’t tend to list bottling dates. This was picked up from the Whisky Exchange as part of a batch of miniatures for sampling new distilleries. Drunk while listening to the History Of Guns’ EP Disconnect.

Glentauchers 1991

Gordon and MacPhail: Glentauchers: 1991 (Scottish Speyside Single Malt Whisky: 16 Years: 43% Abv)

Visual: Yellowed grain.

Viscosity: Fast thick streaks.

Nose: Floral. Pencil shavings. Heather. Vanilla. Toffee. Water adds sulphur.

Body: Toffee and custard. Some oak. Very noticeable alcohol. Grain. Water lightens adding red fruit and cinnamon. Apple strudel and raisins. Spotted dick.

Finish: Alcohol. Uncooked rice. Oak. Heather. Again water soothes. Some toffee cinnamon, apples and raisins. Sugared almonds. Nutmeg.

Conclusion: Water. The clear lifeblood of the planet. We don’t appreciate you anywhere near as much as we should.

Ok, most you will probably have guessed where this is going already.

Neat this is a bit shit. That is a technical term by the way. I seriously couldn’t believe it was a sixteen year old whisky, there was noticeable alcohol, quite simple flavours and an overly oaken expression. So, I was disappointed, and not really looking forwards to the rest of the whisky as I started adding that clear lifeblood of the planet.

Boom. Headshot. Whisky changed.

A kind of stodgy spotted dick rises to form a new base, and comes out with a lot of sherry influence. There’s lots of red fruit, spice and raisins. It is half way between a bread and butter pudding and a high class strudel. In case you are wondering, I mean that as a good thing.

So, do I like it overall? Presuming I have access to water I say yes, very much so. I know my description probably made it sound very sweet, and does have a mass of sweet notes, but the spice gives it a lot more depth than that, making it a far more balanced whisky than I have indicated so far.

So very stodgy, solid and sherry influenced whisky, with a strong base to back. All it needs it water. So use water. It deserves it.

Background: Bottled 2007, or so my web research tells me. they never put these details on the miniatures it seems. Part of my ongoing attempt to try whisky from the distilleries I have yet to try, I’ve grabbed a few minis and I am working my way through them. Drunk while listening to Arch Enemy: War Eternal – the new singer is stepping into the shoes nicely.

CC Balmenach 2004

Gordon and Macphail : Connoisseurs Choice: Balmenach: 2004 (Scottish Speyside Single Malt Whisky: 9 years: 46% ABV)

Visual: Slightly brackish grain.

Visual: Fast thick streaks.

Nose: Thick and pungent. Heather. Lime. Pencil shavings. Light smoke and sulphur. Peppered beef. Water makes more grassy and toffee.

Body: Soft vanilla. Moss and greenery. Toffee. heather. Malt chocolate. Beefy back. With water becomes treacle and honey. Grassy and slightly soured.

Finish: Light medicinal. Salt. Vanilla and toffee. Malt chocolate. Peppered beef. Water adds sour dough touch.

Conclusion: It’s always an exciting and mildly nerve inducing experience going for one of the lesser known distilleries. Excitement comes in blazing a trail little travelled, nerve inducing comes as you are worried that you may just have brought back 70cl of alcoholic piss. Or Tamdhu.

This is an interesting find, pungent on opening, and it doesn’t seem to neatly fit into any one whisky area’s expectations. It is grassy, almost mossy in fact, thick textured but with a sweet toffee back , and yet also with light medicinal touches and salt in the finish. Very light but there. If I may be excused one of my horrifyingly bad analogies – it kind of tastes like a sweet toffee swamp. Ok, that sounded really bad, let’s try that again, bear with me .. Hmm, it is like a big ball of salted toffee that has fallen through a moss pit.

I may give up on analogies. New years thingy. Given up. Completely. Honest.

While this is not one of the all time greats it is a robust whisky, and without a lot of the harsh extreme flavours that come with a lot of the big whiskys. It has mellow grassiness, heather flavour, sweet easy going base, but thick and with medicinal hints. Kind of the easy going whisky for someone who only has the barest grasp on what easy going means.

Any which way, while it is not a world shaker, I have no regrets to having a bottle. A very solid general drinking whisky.

Background: Bottled 2013, so I am guessing 9 years, may be 8. This is part of my effort to try more distilleries I have yet to try, so I grabbed a bunch – mainly miniatures with this one being the exception. This one is a distillery used mainly as producing elements for blended whisky, but good old Gordon and Macphail have some independently bottled expressions.

Gordon and Macphail: Connoisseurs Choice: Port Ellen 1982 (Scottish Islay Single Malt Whisky: 27 Year: 43%)

(Bottled 2009)

Visual: Clear grain to yellow.

Viscosity: Very fast middle sized streaks.

Nose: Brine. Salt. Fish oil. Seaweed. Slightly antiseptic. Slightly sour white grapes. Little sign of the alcohol presence for the aroma. Water changes little but for making it more salty.

Body: Smooth. Brine. Seaweed. Medicinal. Grapes. Mild chocolate back. White wine. Water brings out the contrast between salt and grapes. More water adds meaty broth.

Finish: Peat, grapes and salt. Caramel after a while. Wet rocks. Milky chocolate.. Water actually makes saltier, like anchovies.

Conclusion: So I finally break open this whisky time capsule from the legendary Port Ellen. 150 Whisky reviews with this as the capstone.

And it is…drum roll please.

Actually (and thankfully) pretty darn nice. First impression are very Islay. Medicinal, salt, brine and seaweeds. The first few moments made me remember my first ever impression of Laphroig all those years back, but as if it had been smoothed by many years in the cask.

What surprised me was for all the salt and medicinal touches, the usual meaty peaty body was very restrained. You only got hints of it late on and when water was added. The base whisky is quite clean as a flavour delivery system.

Instead there is this grape sweetness that rises up over time, and a caramel like finish. Sweetness against medicinal bite makes for an effective combo, and combined with the cleanness of the spirit is very easy to drink. As mentioned it is very smooth, the age has done well to hide the alcohol and let it be the Islay character that is challenging, not the alcohol fire.

Oddly, early on in adding water the whisky becomes more polarised, more salt and more gapes clashing to create a new intensity rather than smoothing it.  More water still settles it once more, so it’s worth having a quick play with water for effect if not flavour.

So is it worth the high, and ever rising, asking price? Considering the age of the whisky the asking price for an independent bottling is high, but not insane. The quality is high, like an easy going Laphroaig if that contradiction is not too much to bear. I think at this point you are paying for the experience more than the whisky.  It does have it’s own unique niche though, nestled between the heavy and light Islays, a bridge between the two. This particular expression furthermore is very smooth yet with good expression of it’s harsh elements.

Admittedly for the cost of this you could get a whole lot of Islay. Lagavulin distillers edition and Laphroaig Quarter cask and 18 year Bowmore.  It isn’t better than having those three bottles, but as a dose of history it is also a very nice whisky.

Background: The 150th Whisky review, and 800th review. A double celebration, and for that only one thing could do. Port Ellen. A distillery that closed back in the early 1980’s and the only Islay whisky I had yet to try. (The second to last for me to review, I’ve still not reviewed the newest Islay’s distillery’s product). I’m a huge Islay fan and this bottling was picked up a year ago.  I knew I wasn’t going to be drinking it for a while, but with Port Ellens legendary status, and the lack of stock, I knew price would only go up. So I bought it while I could rather than pay more later.  My review was based on the price I paid for it a year ago, it’s jumped about a third again since then so take that into account please. Technically I could have kept this unopened and sold in a few years for a nice profit, but sod that, whisky is for drinking.

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