Whisky Review: Cadenhead Single Cask Bruichladdich 1988 Aged 30 Years

Style: Fruity and Grassy

Nose:
Creamy yoghurt mixing nicely with tiny pineapple and melon chunks at the front, sweet and comfortable. Fresh-cut grass brushes magnify and transform into greater spearmint pulses, followed by some camphor and white peppercorns which makes the distillate quite bright and vibrant. The spirit hotness gradually subsides and give way to vanilla, almond milk and faint purple violet notes (floral, not soapy) to tuck in. Thinnest slice of canned peach, chilli flakes and macadamias at the back. Quite nice.

Palate:
Tropical fruits boiling down to syrupy form, passionfruit, pineapple, peaches, mandarin and even some strawberries in action to give a sweet head start. While there are plenty of fruitiness parading through the early-half, the herbaceous side of the spirit – mainly peppermint, Thai basil, mint and red chillies plays from the deep, anchoring as well as spiking up the expression. Some fruits make a comeback and go creamy, caramel beads rolling off white peaches. Carrot cake and oak shavings. Dry barley tail.

Finish:
Earthier and greener as the fruits making another slow retreat. Nutmeg and sawdust thinly cover over the summer fruits. A small strawberry reflux at the end.

Thoughts:
Although the label says it is a Bourbon cask, personally I do find there are minimal traces of sherry in this. Anyway, this is a rather vibrant Laddie which shows a good level of maturity. The fruits are condensed, softened and chiselled beautifully by time whereas the spirit remains strong, compact and controlled, making it gentle but focused. Granted, there are inherent limitations to old school unpeated Laddie, but this is as good as it gets. Just one step away from two stars.

☆ [Recommended]

Esmond

[48.9%| 1988 Distilled| 2018 Bottled| Independent Bottling| Single Cask | Cask Strength| Non Coloured| 174 Bottles| *+]

Whisky Review: Lagavulin 1977 25 Years Old Special Release 2002

Style: Spicy, Sweet and Smoky

Nose:
Round dark fruits and chocolate notes coating around the unyielding maritime, even slightly meaty spirit. Overripe strawberries, fig jam and blackcurrant gummies gradually give way to some spicy bird’s eye, unshucked oysters and limoncello. Mineral brushes and peat signatures forming alliance with black cardamom, nutmeg, stewed fruits at lower level. Deep sherry notes dialing back time and make another push. Malt biscuits to finish.

Palate:
Massive spice attack at the frontline, we are looking at Rare Malts level kind of bruteness here. Red chillies and searing-hot spirit punch a hole which allows the assorted sherry fruits to flow through it and build around its core. Limoncello, oysters, malt and peat prancing in the most sumptuous fashion – boy, this is why we love Laga! Aloe vera and iodine overtone swiftly dropping down to an earthier konjac side notes. Raisin chocolate, demerara sugar and even a taste of dark rum. Liquorice stroking with tar, some caramel cream at the end.

Finish:
Molten raisin chocolate bubbling gently, lemon candle and lobster shells shining through from the back, subtle but determined peated malt makes it stand.

Thoughts:
This is the classic, classy Lagavulin I know, this style of single malt at such a high calibre is so few and far between these days. Sure, the spiciness almost off the chart like most Rare Malts do (they are in similar vintage, similar bottling period after all), but in return it builds a Colosseum of space for the sherry and malt to roam and shine. Intense, but also satisfying. In terms of scoring/rating, maybe it is too blunt for some and probably with minimal cask fault hidden within, but it is still an incredibly good whisky.

☆☆ [Highly Recommended]

-Esmond

[57.2%| Original Bottling| 1977 Distilled| 2002 Bottled| Vatting | 9000 Bottles | Natural Cask Strength| Bottle Number: 7748| **]

Whisky Review: Port Ellen 1978 Aged 35 Years 14th Release

Style: Smoky, Fruity and Complex

Nose:
Exceptionally rich vanilla, charred oak and glazed hazelnut gently blended in with barbeque smoke, ultra-aged sweet peat and a drop of brine. Fragrant floral perfume and drier green mint oscillating in and out, white chocolate sponge cake, boiled yellow fruits, some focused herbal overtone leaving hot trails in the sky. Roasted almonds uncovering some damp, rawer peat. Barley, red chilli, burnt cobs and fizzling cream soda and sparkling water to finish. Let it breathe, it is very complex and ever-changing.

Palate:
Beautiful charred oak touch down on the palate. Stewed tropical fruits with a slight acidic tone – wood varnish and cranberries. Followed by subtle notes of ruby grapes and vines, chocolate strawberries and blackcurrants, a swift trip to sherry-land. Southern rind, smoked bonito and damp peat moving on towards molten liquorice. Icy peppermint and chilli flakes keeping the spirit razor sharp, a good layer of vanilla cream in the middle, assorted chocolate and roasted nuts. Cherries, malt and coal fire smoke at the back.

Finish:
Lite version assorted red fruits, torched liquorice sticks and peat smoke. Tropical fruits boiling softly.

Thoughts:
Six years ago, I got to try this Port Ellen and I thought, wow, this is what Islay whiskies are really about. It is smoky and fruity, elegant but vibrant, complex, delicious but most importantly, complete. Six years later, the feeling remains very much the same. I have no intention to hype Port Ellen, given how crazy the market it is already and I have tried some bang average ones as well. But for this bottling, it is not only PE tends to age very well, but together with incredible vatting skills, it is pretty close to perfection.

☆☆☆ [Most Recommended]

[56.5%| 1978 Distilled| 2014 Bottled| 2964 Bottles| Limited Release| Bottle Number: 1121| Natural Cask Strength| Vatted| ***]

Esmond

Whisky Review: The Single Malts of Scotland Laphroaig 1996 Aged 24 Years

Style: Smoky, Fruity and Creamy

Nose:
Full of classic Laphroaig goodness, a mix of liquorice, marmalade and bonfire ashes. Followed by lemon citrus, salty peaches, almond flakes and roasted seaweed. Edging more towards the realm of raw Islay as we progress, lean barbeque pork, chilli shreds and smoked shellfish. Coffee and cream, minimal amount of manuka honey and vanilla lightly painted at the bottom.

Palate:
Golden malt trickles through with some beautiful naval oranges. Quite different from what the nose has indicated, you can forget about the smoke for a few seconds. It seems half of the smoke has dissipated and it has taken up the support role instead. Liquroice roots, brine, stewed tropical fruits and beewax wrapping around the core nicely. Tar, iodine and chocolate oak to finish.

Finish:
Salmiaklakrids with a strong smoky tang, citrus-tropical fruits leaving a lasting sweetness. Quite nice.

Thoughts:
A Laphroaig somehow manages to showcase the distillery character progression along the time axis. While part of it remains rather hardcore smoky, the elegant fruits on the palate indicates there is some fantastic composure and maturity from the spirit. Capturing the transition moment of this Laphroaig is rewarded with excellent complexity and dynamics, you get a bit of everything and it is neatly balanced in the same time. Good cask (side note, not sure what does the Jack Daniels cask do, probably it injects some extra creaminess to the spirit), but the bottle timing is even better. Very close to 2 stars.

☆+ [Recommended]

[51.8%| 1996 Distilled| 2020 Bottled| 217 Bottles| Single Cask| Cask Strength| Cask Reference: 1-104| Cask Type: Bourbon Ex Jack Daniels| *+]

Whisky Review: Bruichladdich 1972 Japan Import System Aged 29 Years

Style: Fruity, Grassy and Spicy

Nose:
Begins with a platter of fruit banquet – Tropical fruits, melons, orchards, forest berries, a bit of everything. Sweet, clean and fragrant. In comes vanilla cream and peanut skins sewing into the spirit. Green grass growing from the back and reaching all the way to the top. Chilli water, elderflower and rose water brush. White pepper, limestone and barley giving a drier tail.

Palate:
Similar to what the nose has suggested. Abundant assorted fruits at the front, but more emphasis on bananas and peaches. Tropical fruits punchbowl simmering gently with agar agar. The sweetness wanes midway and releases more Bourbon cask notes – vanilla milk, honeycomb wax, sawdust, then turning into earthy taros, green grass, crackers, dried berries, five spices, spearmint and white pepper on the same level. Spice burning very slowly, herbal notes to finish.

Finish:
More boiled tropical fruits, earthy notes, malt biscuits, vanilla cream and cranberries lingering till the end.

Thoughts:
A rather complex make with a bright fruity start which then transmute into a contrasting, drier and earthy second-half. Technical and maybe slightly difficult to dissect, but there are indeed plenty of nuances left to be explored. Comparing to this “old-school“ Laddie to the modern ones, it feels the general DNA is surprisingly similar (Melon fruits, grassy, floral, malt), on the other hand, the modern ones seem to be more refined with less loose ends to tidy up, but the flip side might also mean that there are less side-notes/subtleties in the spirit. Pretty nice either way, if you ask me.

[49.3%|Original Bottling |1972 Distilled |2001 Bottled |Cask Strength |Aged 29 Years |242 of 404 Bottles |Non Coloured |Non Chill Filtered |Cask Number: 689]

☆+ [Recommended]

-Esmond

Whisky Review: SMWS 53.322 Caol Ila 1989 30 Years Old “Carpe Diem”

Style: Smoky and Sherried

Nose:
A few coal fire sparks light up fifty shades of smoke on the nose – bonfire ashes, briquettes, katsuobushi and dark cherries emerging from the dense, cloudy haze. The sherry sweetness slowly spread across to the outer rims and wrap around the spirit gently. Charred oak, marshy bog and minerals leading to zesty lime and kumquat at the core. Cod liver oil, sour raspberries and roasted cobs at the tail. Very nice.

Palate:
Sweeter than what the nose has suggested, begins with dark fruits and tanghulu tightly wrapped in barbeque smoke. Followed by cherries, muscovado sugar and strawberries playing a brighter and fruitier tone. Just as the sherry has the upper hand, the tobacco leaves and maritime peat smoke cut in at the right moment and give the sweetness a more balanced and solemn complexion. Bonito and charred oak slipping under to base level, a quick peppermint zap and the zesty citrus core begins hymning towards the end.

Finish:
Chargrilled maritime influence is increasingly visible as the other side notes are slowly waning off. Spearmint, dark sherry swaying to and fro with a gentle zing.

Thoughts:
This Caol Ila has exceeded my expectation because the interplay between the sherry and smoke is so intricate and complementing on a nuanced level, it is like a perfect yin and yang in action. Probably a bit on the heavy side for some, however, it is beautifully aged, with edges thoroughly polished and remained incredibly vibrant throughout, loved it. I have my fair share of excellent 80s Bourbon Caol Ilas, but this sherry one really stood out. Top dram.

☆☆ [Highly Recommended]

[51.7%| Independent Bottling| 1989 Distilled| 2020 Bottled| Single Cask| Natural Cask Strength| 1 of 444 Bottles| Refill ex-Sherry Butt| **]

Esmond

Whisky Review: SMWS 10.190 Bunnahabhain 2013 6 Years Old “Make Moine a Devil!”

Style: Sherry, Peaty and Spicy

Nose:
Begins with cranberries compote and candied roasted almonds. A glimmer of navel oranges leads to immense waves of spirit spice. Thousands of chilli flakes floating down onto seafood barbeque. Ham, brine and kombu balanced by honey aloe vera. Coconut shreds sink to the bottom, potato chips and sweet soy sauce brushed on grilled eggplants. Soft fresh-cut grass tail.

Palate:
An excellent Oloroso opening – juicy sweet cranberries and ruby grapes rolling out neatly with a satisfying weight. Molten raisin chocolate and spotted dick followed by an immediate mighty peppermint strike. Liquorice torched by peat smoke, orange and rock sugar shining through and fighting the heat. Bird’s eye chilli, toffee and treacle trickling down onto some fisherman’s friends. Hot, but rather sweet and reasonably structured.

Finish:
Red fruits soften and purring gently towards the end. More subtle oranges, grassy notes and black liquorice. The aftershock of lingering spice giving a slight tingling sensation. Busy and nice.

Thoughts:
Oh Moine Bunny, is Staoisha a thing? Yes, I think it is. The body is noticeably lighter than Port Charlotte, but that allows more spaces for casks and other elements to dance and perform. The balance might be a bit more delicate, and without the help of sherry cask, is it going to be too spicy and not enough flavours? Maybe, I will have to try more to tell, but for this second-fill Oloroso, it works like a charm.

☆ [Recommended]

[61.1%| Independent Bottling| Single Cask| Cask Strength| 616 Bottles| 2nd Fill Ex-Oloroso Sherry Butt | *]

-Esmond

Whisky Review: SMWS 3.212 Bowmore “Anti-aphrodisiac” 1994 Aged 19 Years

Style: Fruity and Smoky

Nose:
A deep and riveting aroma on the nose. Lemon citrus, apricots and mineral peat resonating beautifully, nice. Bacon chunks and seaweed lightly roasted, passionfruit and mint garnishing on fizzing Schweppes. Orange confectionaries carried by chilli spice. Barbeque smoke rolling at the back.

Palate:
Resounding lemon-orange citrus beaming positively on the palate. Smoky water, more apricots, sultanas gathering and singing at the core. Bacon strips and lime stones building up slowly while chilli spice heating up the melting pot. Dark liquorice, dried apricots bits, cheddar with a touch of malt syrup. Fizzing off to a Moscato finish.

Finish:
Charred oak, hints of sea shells and bonfire. The influence of red currants gradually growing, sweet Riesling and dried fruits echoing till the end.

Thoughts:
This Bowmore is my first-ever society bottling I have bought. Interestingly (and also now with a sense of irony), it was introduced to me by none other than the Whisky Bible, the controversial Mr. Jim Murray, gave a pretty high mark which prompted me buy this bottle. A few years on and wow, life is always full of surprises isn’t it. Now back to this dram, while there is minimal influence from the sherry butt (4th fill?), the distillate is in pristine condition, all clean and balanced. Nothing crazy but it is definitely a decent Bowmore.

☆ [Recommended]


[55.7% Independent Bottling 1994 Distilled Single Cask 534 Bottled Natural Cask Strength Non Chill Filtered Non Coloured Ex-Sherry Refill Butt *]

Whisky Review: Bowmore 2000 Hand-Filled Cask #2495

Style: Dark Sherry and Smoky

Nose:
Begins with liquorice roots and tobacco which sink very deep and anchoring firmly at the base. Abundant dark fruits filling up the rest of the chamber, maple syrup, raisins, red currants with a touch of dried apricots. Prosciutto, wet cardboard, peppermint, cinnamon wood gently charred. Salty caramel melting and trickling down onto the mineralic peat. Subtle mango notes, steamed pāua and bonfire ashes dancing at the tail. Massive sherry with some maritime funkiness, crazy, but crazy good.

Palate:
Incredible amount of dark fruits rolling out on the palate, very big, intense, viscous. The sludgy sherry is deftly lifted up and counterbalanced by a clean touch of green tea leaves, five-spice and freshly-lit cigar. Peppercorn flashes, more depth as Black Forest cake and overripe cherries unfolding at mid-level. Umami, salty peat bog, Limoncello taking a splash of chilli pepper water. Another wave of black currants and tropical fruits, very fragrant. Liquorice roots leading to earthy malt towards the end, taro and cassava riding on a final spicy push.

Finish:
Black currants and expresso gradually reverting to a lighter form of sherry. Goji berries and ruby grapes, peppermint, bacon strips and cigarette smoke lingering till the end.

Thoughts:
Finally, I laid my hands on this famous Bowmore Hand-Filled (it wasn’t cheap), I generally do not make a point on the colour of the whisky, but man, when this Bowmore is almost as dark as soy sauce, it does give you a good idea of what you are getting into. Dark fruits are running rampant and overwhelming at times which makes me wonder if this super sherry bomb has gone a bit too far, but surprisingly, the clean spice and maritime smoke from the distillate cleverly cuts into the richness, balances and elevates the expression. Sweet, rich, reasonably complex and delicious. Love it.

☆☆ [Highly Recommended]

[56.9% Original Bottling 2000 Distilled 2018 Bottled 143 Bottles Single Cask 1st Fill Sherry Puncheon Cask Number: 2495| Cask Strength **]

-Esmond

Whisky Review: Adelphi Selection Bowmore 1997 20 Years Old


Style: Fruity, Slightly Smoky and Complex

Nose:
Warm pomegranate and cherry sauce pouring onto a sizzling steak. A pinch of sea salt, thyme placed on the side. Tropical fruits breaking out of the shell. Figs, dates and chocolate fudge placed on top of spearmint paste garnish. Umami anchoring at the bottom while white floral (am I also detecting the faintest hint of violets?!) overtone floating up in the air. Busy and quite complex.

Palate:
Cranberries and dark cherries bursting forward on the palate. Peppermint chocolate chip ice cream in golden liquid form, slightly gamey, also a bit briney, feels like a jumbo Pacific oyster sprinkled with black pepper. Liquorice roots, camphor and some tobacco leaves to follow. Tropical fruit punch forming all the necessary base notes. Fig jam, melting chocolate pot and Nutella mixing with some hearty cornflakes. Paprika, nutmeg and chilli touch at the tail.

Finish:
Blackcurrants, ruby grapes and milk chocolate. Another tiny splash of brine, creating a sweet and velvety finish.

Thoughts:
Modern Bowmore hitting top form, glorious sherry shining beautifully while leaving enough space for the distillate to be integrated into the expression with near-perfection. The pace, the elements on display and its arrangement all feels so neat, natural and comfortable. Delicious, coherent and surprisingly complex. Dangerously addictive, this one.

☆☆ [Highly Recommended]

[56.3% | Independent Bottling | 1997 Distilled | 2018 Bottled | Single Cask | Cask Number: 2414 | 601 Bottles | Cask Strength **-]

-Esmond