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Sunday, 30 July 2017

Mannochmore 18 Whisky Review!

A new distillery to tick off the list! And quite an obscure one as well. This particular bottling has been described by the generous sample donor as "the best sherried whisky I've tasted". So there's a bit of anticipation here!

Mannochmore Distillery is located south of Elgin in Speyside, and is a relatively young distillery having 'only' opened in 1971. It's currently owned by Diageo, and shares its site and water source with Glenlossie Distillery, and for a time the two distilleries were operated by the same staff on a 6-monthly alternating roster. Mannochmore is quite a large distillery though, with a current annual capacity of over four million litres via its four pairs of stills, and warehouse space for over 200,000 casks on-site (which also store whisky from other Diageo distilleries), and since 2008 has had its own separate staff. Like many distilleries at the time the distillery was 'mothballed' in the 1980s for five or so years, and again in the mid-1990s for a couple more.

Like many of the obscure distilleries the vast majority of its production has gone into blended whiskies, most notably Haig and Dimple, although I'm sure some finds its way into some of the Johnnie Walker range. There have only been a select few bottlings of Mannochmore single malt, particularly in the case of official bottlings, since the first release in 1992. The most notable of those have been part of Diageo's Flora & Fauna range, and more recently as a sporadically-appearing part of their annual Special Release bottlings. The distillery is also responsible for one particularly infamous and apparently truly horrible whisky, which now of course is a collector's item and is ridiculously expensive for what it is: Loch Dhu, 'The Black Whisky'. Loaded to the hilt with artificial colouring, although apparently "double charring" of the casks also attributed, this whisky was almost black in colour, as you might guess from the name. It's now achieved near-cult status, particularly amongst European collectors with an eye for the oddball & unusual.

This particular bottling though is nowhere near as well known, or as widely disliked. An official bottling from Diageo's 2009 batch of special releases, it's an 18-year old cask strength bottling that was matured in a mix of both re-charred refill ex-bourbon American oak & ex-sherry European oak casks, and first-fill ex-sherry American oak casks. 3210 bottles were released at a cask strength of 54.9%, with an original retail price of 105 pounds, all those eight years ago. These days of course it's quite a bit more expensive, and is mostly only found in online auctions. Unfortunately it's most likely chill filtered, but they may have eased up a bit since it's part of Diageo's special releases (looking at Lagavulin 12 as a fine example!), but I don't believe there's any added colouring here. Anyway, time to pop my Mannochmore cherry!

Mannochmore 18-year old, 54.9%. Speyside, Scotland.
Distilled 1990, bottled 2009. Diageo Special Release. Matured in refill American oak ex-bourbon & refill European ex-sherry casks, and first-fill American oak ex-sherry casks. Suspect at least lightly chill filtered, but I don't believe it's been artificially coloured.

Colour: Dark amber.

Nose: Interesting! Quite dry to start with, and very mineral-y in character. Some lovely meaty, rich, dry Oloroso sherry, a little savoury honey & vanilla, and that almost Island whisky-like minerality that I'd more expect from a Tobermory or Bunnahabhain. Like a cold stone or volcanic rock. A little yeasty too, and quite well balanced overall. 

Texture: Medium weight, warm & silky. Does have a little heat to it, but it's only light. 

Taste: Nice meaty, dry sherry again, warm baking spices, and more of that stone-like minerality. Slightly salty too, hint of ground coffee and a little raw spirit-y tingle. 

Finish: Medium length. Semi-dark chocolate, stewed stone fruits, slight hint of something nutty. More baking spices too, and a little bitter marmalade. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5. 

Notes: A very nice sherried dram from what seems to be quite an unusual distillery! That slightly salty mineral character in particular is very intriguing, like I said above it's something I'd more expect to find in an Island-whisky like a Tobermory for example. So it makes for a great point of difference in this Speysider! Considering the original retail price in 2009, and the fact that it's an 18-year old, cask strength sherried whisky with a relatively small release (even more so nearly 10 years later), this one can still be had for almost-reasonable money on the auction circuit, which I'd say is partly down to it being such an obscure distillery. So it's well worth the hunt if you're into this sort of thing. 

Certainly a very enjoyable dram, although when drinking sherried Speysiders it's hard to resist comparing them to the sherry-bomb masters like Glendronach, Aberlour etc., but this is a different kettle of fish really. It has enough going on underneath & alongside the sherry, plus that unexpected but not unpleasant minerality, and I can't say I've tried anything quite like it. Which is all part of the fun of exploring new whiskies!


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Kilchoman Loch Gorm Whisky Review!

I'm a big fan of Kilchoman's Machir Bay & Sanaig releases, and they offer great value for money to boot. So far though, the Loch Gorm has lost out to those. It's released yearly though, so each bottling is different. So let's see how this one goes!

Islay's only farm distillery is now well past it's 10th birthday, but we've yet to see a general release of a 10 year old bottling. There have been a couple of very exclusive 10-year old single casks, but word around the traps is that we won't see a more widely available 10-year old expression for quite some time, if at all. But then, when Kilchoman's young 4-6 year old bottlings are of such high quality and are clearly so well matured, why would you bother!?! A great example is the excellent Port Cask bottling, which was only aged for 3 years, the minimum maturation period for a Scotch whisky. But you'd never have guessed it was that young, despite being bottled at 55% ABV, and it's now attained almost legendary status despite being a relatively recent release. A combination of careful un-hurried production, sourcing excellent casks & expert cask management seem to be the main culprits for this success if you ask me; but whatever they're doing over there it's certainly working!

Kilchoman have four 'core' expressions in their range, the mostly ex-bourbon cask 'Machir Bay', the mostly ex-sherry cask 'Sanaig', the yearly '100% Islay' bottlings which are made only from the distillery's own floor-malted & farm-grown barley, and the ex-sherry cask only 'Loch Gorm', which is also released in yearly batches. I've tasted the 2014 and 2015 bottlings previously (the 2015 was the better of the two), and while they're certainly good whiskies they haven't offered quite the same value for money as the Machir Bay and Sanaig expressions. For those playing from overseas, those two are generally available for around $100 and $120 AUD respectively, while the Loch Gorm starts at around $150. I can understand why, sherry casks are very expensive after all, but the releases I had tried just didn't offer the same 'bang-for-buck' as their brethren. The distillery also gives us an annual special release, usually matured in an exotic cask such as Madeira or Sauternes wine, and a cask strength bottling usually matured in ex-bourbon casks, and they also release a huge range of single cask bottlings, often for exclusively for bottle shops around the world, and often finished or fully matured in an unusual cask.

That said, the 2016 release I'm looking at is slightly different. While it's still fully matured in ex-sherry casks, it's a mix of both first-fill and re-fill casks, and it's also the first 6-year old bottling of Loch Gorm. As an aside, the recent 2017 release is actually 7 years of age, and I'm really hoping we see some of those bottles in Australia sometime soon! Both the 2016 and 2017 bottlings were comprised of just 17 casks each, so these are getting to be quite limited releases. This 2016 release is bottled at 46%, and like all Kilchomans it's non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. Sample purchased from an online retailer.

Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2016, 6 years old, 46%. Islay, Scotland.
Matured in both first-fill & refill ex-Oloroso sherry casks. Distilled 2010, bottled 2016, 17 casks total. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 

Colour: Dark gold. Doesn't really match the above photo. 

Nose: Fruity, light and sweet. Mild dusty, earthy peat, golden raisins in syrup, some orange zest, cheap lemonade soft drink that has started to go flat. A little rubber and cocoa powder. 

Texture: Light weight, youthful but no heat at all. Surprisingly soft actually. 

Taste: Peatier than the nose suggested. A nice warm earthy peat, citrus zest again, a little mild spice. Some sweet rubbery notes again, bitter cocoa, and some stewed fruits. 

Finish: Quite short, with more assertive spice, more earthy peat & rubbery or waxy fruit, subtle grapefruit rind note as well, and mild spicy & dusty peat 'til the end. 

Score: 2.5 out of 5. But see below. 

Notes: To be honest, I suspect this sample, or more likely the bottle it came from, is actually quite oxidised. I don't have a frame of reference for this exact whisky, so it's hard to know for sure, but it has the suspiciously light, dusty, subdued profile that I associate with a whisky that has lost it's mojo. There's also very little sherry influence here, which also makes me lean that way. Either that, or this is by far my least favourite Loch Gorm bottling so far. Or maybe that's the case as well. So why review a whisky that I think may be oxidised? Well that's just the risk I take by posting these weekly reviews! It also keeps things honest though, you're most often getting an un-edited, very-nearly'live' report on the whisky I've just tasted. So there are good and bad points!

Regardless, I'm still not blown away with Kilchoman Loch Gorm. So far the 2015 bottling is by far my pick of the three that I've tried, although as mentioned above I'm yet to get my hands on the most recent 2017 version. Although still reasonably enjoyable, this 2016 bottling also has the least overt sherry influence that I've found in the bottlings I've tasted. So I'd suggest trying before buying if possible, or otherwise in my opinion you're better off going for the excellent value and dependable Machir Bay or Sanaig expressions. Or just splurge and go for a cask strength bottling.  


Sunday, 9 July 2017

Glendronach 18 'Allardice' Whisky Review!

An 18-year old whisky, that usually isn't actually 18 years old! It's great value for money too, and is one of my favourites.

Hang on, what do I mean it isn't actually 18 years old? Are Glendronach ripping us off? No, not at all, of course not. Quite the opposite actually! There has been plenty of chatter around about the actual ages of the standard Glendronach releases being quite a bit older than the labels state, basically thanks to timing. For example, the 18-year old age statement on the bottle I'm reviewing tonight is at least a year short.

What am I on about? Glendronach was closed ('mothballed' in distillery speak) in 1996, and remained so until 2002. No distillation occurred during those 6 or so years, but there was still plenty of whisky maturing quietly in the distillery's warehouses. So for example any Glendronach whisky bottled in 2016 with an age statement of 15 years or more is actually significantly older than that, because the distillery wasn't producing spirit in 2001, so that whisky must have been distilled in 1996. Age statements must of course reflect the minimum / lowest age of the bottle's contents, and obviously no whisky that is younger than the chosen age statement can be included in the recipe.

My current bottle of Glendronach 18-year old 'Allardice' was bottled in August of 2015 (the bottling date is printed on the back of the bottle itself), which would normally mean it was distilled in, or prior to, July 1997. But the distillery had been closed for approximately 15 months at that stage, which means the contents of this particular bottle is actually a minimum of 19-20 years of age. So you can understand why the much-loved 15-year old 'Revival' was put on hiatus, since if bottled in 2016 it would actually be around 19-20 years of age, and why there isn't (in my opinion) much of a quality gap between it and the Allardice I'm reviewing here. The distillery is waiting for the spirit that was distilled after the re-opening to come of age, which means it should return sometime in 2017-2018, assuming that no plans have changed since the recent purchase of Glendronach and its sister distilleries by Brown-Forman. All seems to be business-as-usual so far, so let's just keep our fingers crossed.

It's also important to note that prior to the distillery closure, Glendronach were using direct-fired stills, and floor-malted barley, and were also using a small amount of peat in the malting process. The malting floors were decommissioned on the distillery's closure in 1996, while the stills were converted to indirect heating prior in 2005. So again if your bottle of 16+ year old Glendronach was bottled this year, it was at least partially made from the floor-malted barley. Any younger than that, and it was wholly made from externally-sourced barley. And if your bottle is 11-12+ years old, it was made using the direct-fired stills. Any younger than that, and it was made using the current steam heated stills.

In my opinion the distillery closure and the gap in production is also part of the reasoning behind Glendronach's large and impressive range of single cask releases, because doing so enables the distillery to sell the cask at its actual age, rather than having to blend it in with younger or older casks in a standard or regular bottling. This certainly isn't a bad thing though, the single cask releases are usually excellent, although the recent batches have been very expensive. On that point, I've tasted a very, very good 20 year old single cask that was distilled in 1995, and also a very, very good 11 year old single cask that was distilled in 2004. So things are looking good for the future!

So, back to the whisky at hand! The name 'Allardice' refers to James Allardice, who founded the distillery in 1826. It's bottled at 46%, is non-chill filtered and naturally (and beautifully) coloured, and is exclusively and fully-matured in ex-Oloroso sherry casks. No finishing here! The Allardice sells for around $150 in Australia, which is very good value for the age and quality you're getting, if you ask me.
Glendronach 18 'Allardice', 46%. Highlands, Scotland.
Fully matured in ex-Oloroso sherry casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.

Colour: Dark rust-red.

Nose: Sweet, warm & rich. Sweet raisins in syrup, rich dark treacle toffee, some cherry & plum jams. Some sweeter stone fruits, apricot & peach, and some red apple. A little flaky buttery dessert pastry as well. 

Texture: Lovely. Syrupy, sweet & lightly spiced. No heat at all. 

Taste: Rich & spicy, considerably drier than the nose though. More of that stone fruit and dessert pastry, plus the raisins and plum jam, but not sweetened now. Some burnt coffee grounds and spicy, soft oak.

Finish: Medium length. Still spicy oak, with cinnamon, clove and a little ginger. Then the treacle and raisins return, plus some more buttery pastry, a dry, rich sherry, bitter dark chocolate and light tannins. 

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Lovely dram! Plenty of sherry influence of course, but it's not overwhelming, there's still plenty of complexity. Lovely richness of flavour and just excellent quality. Definitely great value for money at current prices. In fact, I'm struggling to think of a better sherry bomb with a similar price tag. I know that's a big call, but I stand by it. Readily available, dependable, and very, very delicious. This is a winner.   

I've always actually preferred this 18-year old to the much-loved and on-hiatus 15-year old 'Revival'. I think I'm in the minority there, but I love the big, rich spicy sherry and slightly 'darker' feel of the Allardice. If you're yet to try it and you're pining for the 15-year old, which is now selling for at least double its original price (and I'm sorry, it's just not worth it), I suggest you give this one a go!


Sunday, 2 July 2017

Bowmore 25 Year Old Feis Ile 2016 Whisky Review!

Yes, an even rarer Bowmore this week. Why not! But this one is a little different to the last...

For a start, it's actually much rarer. It's also a 25-year old cask strength Bowmore that was bottled for the 2016 Feis Ile, and there were only 200 bottles released. It was matured in ex-bourbon casks for 13 years, and 'finished' for 12 years (that's a very long finishing!) in a French oak Claret red wine cask. Original sell price was 350 pounds, so not exactly cheap to begin with, and it's now worth over 1000 pounds on the secondary market. If you can find it at all! Despite the price, and like they did at this year's Feis Ile, Bowmore fans queued for hours to get their hands on a bottle of this exceedingly rare whisky. And once again it sold out in a matter of hours.

Luckily the distillery must have kept a few for themselves, because during his recent trip to Islay for the festival, a certain very lucky and very generous Australian brand ambassador grabbed a couple of samples! It's very safe to say that, just like last week's Bowmore Feis Ile review, I would never have been able to taste this whisky if not for all-round gentleman Mr. Woolley. I also realise that not many people out there will get the chance to taste it, but I can't miss the opportunity to share this experience with you all, so I'm afraid you'll just have to live vicariously through me for the next few minutes!

Before we get into it, let's have a quick look at Claret. Claret is actually a commonly used term that refers to French red wines from the Bordeaux region, or occasionally a 'Bordeaux style' red wine from elsewhere. It's most commonly used in England when referring to a dry, dark red wine. Even if we assume the cask came from Bordeaux, there are over 8000 wine producers of varying styles in the region, so that doesn't really give us much to go on. 12 years is a very long time for a finishing, especially in a first-fill French oak red wine cask, so we can safely assume that we're going to get a lot of wine influence and probably tannins in this dram, and most likely very little peat influence as well, considering the age. We'll just have to find out the not-so-hard way! Like many of Bowmore's recent cask strength bottlings it does clearly state that the whisky is naturally coloured and non-chill filtered, which is great to see. This is actually the oldest Bowmore I've tasted to date, so my curiosity is piqued!
Bowmore 25-year old Feis Ile 2016, 55.7% cask strength. Islay, Scotland.
Distilled May 1990, bottled February 2016. Matured for 13 years in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, finished for 12 years in a first-fill French oak Claret wine cask. 200 bottles released. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 

Colour: Dark copper.

Nose: Interesting! Dusty, dry earthy peat, dirty copper coins, raspberry & blackberry jams. A little sweet tropical fruit, some thick caramel sauce, and a little floral perfume (but not the famed unpleasant FWP that some older Bowmore is known for!). 

Texture: Medium weight, really quite sweet. A little dab of heat but not much for 55.7%. 

Taste: Sweet berry jams again, and more tropical fruit. Slightly bitter & spicy oak, and more of that dusty, earthy peat. A little sweet cough mixture & more copper coins. 

Finish: Medium length, but softening quite quickly. Spicy & fruity initially, with apricot jam, some sweetened grapefruit. Hot wood spices, cinnamon & clove, maybe a little nutmeg. Finishes with lightly bitter oak, soft stewed fruits and that earthy dry peat. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5. 

Notes: Nice tasty stuff! There's plenty going on here, with a few interesting notes in the mix keeping things interesting. It's certainly had plenty of time in the wine cask, and it's become quite sweet in the process, although that does retreat a little with more time in the glass. Didn't find any wine tannins either which is a bit of a relief, although there was some bitterness that (in my opinion at least) was coming from the oak. I'm really starting to like that grapefruit note that some Bowmores seem to have, although this being the oldest Bowmore I've tasted, I didn't expect to find it here, so it's actually quite refreshing!

Would I pay the current asking price? Definitely not. Not that I could afford it anyway of course, but still! Like the 19-year old from this year's Feis Ile that I reviewed last week, if you managed to get your hands on one of these for the original retail price or close to it, then you got a pretty good deal. But personally I wouldn't be splurging on the secondary / auction market for a bottle.

Once again a huge thanks to Dan Woolley, Australia's national Brand Ambassador for Beam Suntory, for the 'hook-up' with this sample, I absolutely would not have got my hands on this tasty liquid otherwise. Thanks again mate!