Strathisla 12 year old

Strathisla 12 year oldDistillery: Strathisla
Region: Speyside
Age: 12 years old
abv: 40%

As the oldest and arguably most picturesque distillery in the north of Scotland, Strathisla can be considered the showpiece in Chivas’s whisky emporium. This is not surprising, since Strathisla is the sole single malt in the company’s portfolio and forms the heart of many a Chivas Regal blend.

Strathisla began its life as a farmhouse distillery under the name Milltown. It was destroyed in a fire in 1876, after which the distillery was rebuilt in its current form. The business changed hands several times, until it was acquired by Chivas Brothers in 1950. Since then, both Strathisla distillery and Chivas have gone from strength to strength, with Chivas becoming the world’s best selling premium blend. As a single malt, Strathisla is often overlooked in favour of its larger Speyside neighbours, and this is wholly unjustified. Sure, Strathisla doesn’t have as extensive a range as some of their competitors, with Strathisla 12 year old being the only malt in the Chivas line-up. But it so happens that this 12 year old is a quality drop of whisky, meaning Strathisla is a distillery that should be noted for more than just the beauty of its stillhouse or for being the home of Chivas Regal. If you like Speyside drams, do give this whisky a try.

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Aberlour A’bunadh (Batch 53)

Aberlour A'Bunadh reviewDistillery: Aberlour
Region: Speyside
Age: No age statement
abv: 59.7%

The story of A’bunadh (meaning The Origin in Gaelic) is an interesting one. How much of it is marketing and how much is truth is hard to say, but the tale goes as follows.

Business was booming in the 1970s, so Aberlour decided to put in a new pair of stills in 1975. When installing the stills, workmen had to remove a name plate, behind which they discovered a time capsule. It was a bottle of Aberlour wrapped in a newspaper from 1892, containing an article about the fire that destroyed the original Aberlour distillery. Although the workmen reportedly emptied out almost the whole bottle, the leftovers were duly handed to the distillery manager, who sent the sample to the lab to be evaluated. The lab results showed that the dram was a marriage of whiskies of different ages, all matured in European oak and bottled at cask strength.

Aberlour A’bunadh is an attempt to recreate this whisky and celebrate the origins of Aberlour. Since only a handful of people ever tasted the original I can’t say whether they succeeded, but oh my have Aberlour created a wonderful dram! A’bunadh is bottled in different batches, each very similar but subtly different. All batches are a vatting of different Aberlours, ranging in age from 3 to 30 years. With the exclusive maturation in European oak, A’bunadh is the ultimate sherry aged whisky, positively exploding with sweet, spicy flavours. Add the high alcohol content (this batch is one of only a few to fall short of 60%) and you have a truly special whisky that is unquestionably the crown jewel in Aberlour’s range.

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BenRiach 15 year old Dark Rum Wood Finish

BenRiach Dark Rum Wood Finish ReviewDistillery: BenRiach
Region: Speyside
Age: 15 years old
abv: 46%

There are not so many rum finished whiskies on the market, but luckily BenRiach is always willing to experiment with different casks. This 15 year old Dark Rum Wood Finish was part of BenRiach’s first Wood Finish Series, released in 2006. Since then, the series has undergone periodic changes, as whiskies have come and gone. The Dark Rum Finish now falls in the ‘gone’ category, as it is no longer being produced. This perhaps reflects a lack of popularity when compared to its sherry, port or Moscatel finished siblings.

After an initial period of maturation in American bourbon barrels, this whisky was finished in casks that previously held dark rum from Jamaica. The result is rather typical, with notes of brown sugar, vanilla and toffee.

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Glenfiddich 18 year old

Glenfiddich 18 year old 01Distillery: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside
Age: 18 years old
abv: 40%

Part of Glenfiddich’s core range, the 18 year old has received a double maturation in bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks. Since this whisky is aged in small batches, one bottle may taste slightly different from another. Each however is a definite step up from the rather bland 12 year old and the overly sweet 15 year old. The extra years of maturation, along with the sherry influence, give this whisky much more character, resulting in a complex, distinguished dram. While this is perhaps not the most exciting of whiskies, it never fails to put a satisfied smile on my face.

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Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve

Glenlivet Master Distiller's Reserve 01Distillery: The Glenlivet
Region: Speyside
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

Part of Glenlivet’s Travel Exclusives range, the Master Distiller’s reserve pays homage to Alan Winchester, Master Distiller at Glenlivet since 2009. He decided to craft a triple cask matured whisky, which was first aged in traditional American oak (used as the standard cask for most Glenlivet expressions), followed by a first-fil bourbon barrel and ex-sherry European oak. The result is a whisky with a wide-ranging flavour palette that’s very easily drinkable. Nevertheless, as a NAS bottling, this dram has likely not aged for very long, and this youthfulness means that the sophistication found in more mature Glenlivet expressions is sadly lacking.

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Glenrothes Select Reserve

Glenrothes Select Reserve ReviewDistillery: Glenrothes
Region: Speyside
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

Glenrothes distillery is located in the Speyside and is known for its creamy, smooth, sweet whiskies. Their spirit matures rather quickly, and is very drinkable from a young age. As such, it has traditionally been very popular with blending houses, and forms the heart of such notable blends as Cutty Sark and Famous Grouse. The former is owned by one of London’s fanciest wine and spirit merchants – Berry Bros & Rudd Ltd – which has made Glenrothes its house whisky. These bottlings were initially vintages only, each with their own handwritten label. Therefore it was something of a breach of protocol when Glenrothes Select Reserve was released, as this is a vatting of casks from different ages. The result is a very drinkable whisky at a much more affordable price. While vatting was somewhat of an experiment for Glenrothes, the Select Reserve has turned out well and is thankfully here to stay.

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Macallan 12 year old Sherry Oak

Macallan Sherry Oak ReviewDistillery: Macallan
Region: Speyside/Highland
Age: 12 years old
abv: 40%

Obtaining a license to distil legally in 1824, the Macallan distillery is located in a beautiful manor house right on the banks of the river Spey. However, due to a set of regulatory changes in 2009, the Macallan is officially no longer a Speyside distillery and its bottles are now labelled as a Highland malt. Unburdened by legal wrangling, whisky experts nonetheless continue to consider Macallan as a Speyside malt. Being located only a mile away from Aberlour distillery, which is a Speyside whisky, this seems to make sense to me.

Either way, the Speyside/Highland debate is somewhat irrelevant, as Macallan stands out in whichever category you place it. It is praised by experts as one of the finest malts in production, and often sells for record prices at auctions. Macallan can even boast the likes of James Bond and Harvey Specter among its fans. Such marketing has paid off: Macallan is now the third best selling single malt in the world by volume. While I never ranked Macallan as one of my favourite whiskies, I recently tried the Macallan 12 years old Sherry Oak in a blind tasting and placed it head and shoulders above the other drams on offer that night.  Where other whiskies might receive an additional few months in sherry casks, Macallan 12 years old was matured exclusively in sherry casks, and it shows. This is an exquisitely smooth and luxurious dram, to be savoured in front of a hearth fire on a cold winter’s day.

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The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 year old

Balvenie 14 Caribbean CaskDistillery: The Balvenie
Region: Speyside
Age: 14 years old
abv: 43%

The Balvenie Caribbean Cask has been around for some time, but was
previously branded as the Cuban Cask (shh don’t let anyone know the Commies might have had anything to do with it) and Golden Cask (too nondescript). What all these different names point at is that the whisky has received an extra maturation in casks that previously held rum, giving it a sweet, spicy character. There are not too many rum finishes out there, so be sure to give this one a try. You won’t be disappointed!

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