Review: Benriach 10-year

December 4th, 2012 by Darin

As a 10, this particular Benriach is young—though the distillery does produce 12- and 16-years as well. As such, its color carries understandably less gravitas than some other whiskies I’ve reviewed here. The Benriach is primarily a yellowed orange, beset, here and there, by viridescent highlights. It wears its age on its sleeve, but with more chutzpah than some other 10s.

The nose is uniquely short-winded. After the dram has had a moment to catch its breath outside the bottle, it opens into the aromas of pungent pear and grape. Noticeably (but not overwhelmingly) phenolic, this aroma is sharp and fragile, sustaining itself predominantly with hints of dry maple. Afterward, the nose dissipates readily.

On the palate, the Benriach 10 begins with hot, steeped cardamom and bitters. Uncomplicated, it follows this salvo with slight citrus while stabilizing itself with dry, starchy almonds.

The finish is steep and cool—a typical Highland counterpoint to the “heat” of the malt upon the tongue.

The aftertaste is slightly cloying, flirting with a kind of pistachio-syrup. In the end, though, the aftertaste is very pleasant and understated; it lingers like all good Highlands.

On a scale of 1-5, I rate the Benriach 10-year a 4. This is a very good 10 that shows a lot of promise. I worry that older Benriachs might decay a bit too much into brandied or bourbonized characteristics, as this is a thin line that the 10 treads quite well.

Review: Tormore 12-year

November 12th, 2012 by Darin

It’s been a while since I’ve re-posted one of my old scotch reviews, so to re-commence: something trusty—a Speyside . . .

The Tormore 12 is a comely malt: its thick, brassy skins only barely conceal full-bellied, golden highlights. In a tumbler, the Tormore catches ambient light greedily in the nebulous, bronzed wedge of its heart.

The nose is only moderately phenolic, and it predominantly offers a sweet, doughy aroma—one sweeter than is characteristic of most other Speysides. Layered under this hearthy perfume are suggestions of heathered cream, ripe currant, and sharp cherry.

This palate is bright and active. It arrives with bittersweet cocoa and soured apple—a dry, dusty drink.

The Tormore finishes long and hot, reminiscent of the famously long-winded Springbank. The diminuendo of this whisky’s flavors is a dark, heavy counterpoint to the drink’s spritely palate.

The aftertaste tarries in charred sugars and bitters—a dying, medicinal spike their only company.

On a scale of 1-5, I rate the Tormore 12-year a 3 1/2. It is a complex and beguiling whisky that easily outperforms many other 12s; however, the aftertaste is overstated, and the Tormore lacks some of the hot, sugared cinnamons on the palate that are commonly the hallmark of a quality Speyside. The Tormore tastes more like the geographical convergence of Lowland and High than an actual Speyside.*

*The Speyside region actually is more-or-less the convergence of the Lowlands and the Highlands. However, the whiskies that originate here are usually so much more than the meeting of High- and Lowland malts.

Review: Glendronach, 12-year

March 30th, 2012 by Darin

Fig. 1: The Glendronach 12-year

The first single-malt I ever tried was the Glendronach 15-year. On my 21st birthday, a good friend offered to take me to the liquor store to select a bottle, and I didn’t know the first thing about good whisky. So I grabbed the Glendronach based on aesthetics alone, and I’ve never been sorry. These days, it’s very difficult to find the 15-year anymore (which saddens me, as it is my most beloved malt)—indeed, I haven’t seen it in years. Just so, the 12-year is great in its own right.

The bottle, as you can see, comes smartly dressed in swathes of crimson, gold, and wheat—the lifted capital signature makes quite a label. The whisky itself, behind a Speyside malt’s traditionally clear glass, is russet bronze, highlighted, in places, by quick orange. It wears, in my opinion, the most quintessential of the Speyside rouges.

The Glendronach 12’s nose is smooth and only mildly phenolic. Sweet and dark, it smells predominantly of old, dry paper. Its secondary attributes suggest cinnamon and hints of dill.

Fig. 2: The Glendronach Distillery. Photo © Anne Burgess

The palate is robust: coffee, maple, roasted almonds. These make for quite the alchemical dance, yielding, ultimately, a tonic of aged heather and wet loam.

The finish is very bright and gone in a heated flash—spiced, effervescent, and suddenly cool.

The 12’s aftertaste, while being dark and toffeed, is surprisingly gentle. It offers a lingering, barley punch and the slightly medicinal, malted tang characteristic of most sweet whiskies. In the end, the Glendronach 12 contents itself with soft caramel in a modest denouement. The aftertaste is long but not steep.

On a scale of 1-5, I rate the Glendronach 12-year a 4. It’s no 15, after all.

From the packaging tin:

“We know Allardice was on to a good thing. And so did he! Indeed he called his malt (in his Aberdeenshire brogue) ‘The Guid Glendronach’ and the first people he convinced of this were the ladies of the night who haunted Edinburgh’s Canongate. Breaking into the market was proving difficult for Glendronach in 1826, so Allardice took matters into his own hands, shipped a barrel to Edinburgh and went out himself to canvass every outlet in the city he could find. But everyone was stocked up. The fate dealt a hand and Allardice was canny enough to play it for all its worth. Returning downhearted to his hotel he was accosted by two young women who asked him to buy them a dram. “Buy ye a dram?” he exclaimed, “I’ll gie ye a dram.” And so he did. And they liked it. And told their friends how ‘guid’ the Glendronach was. Soon everyone was demanding ‘The Guid Glendronach’. And we’ve never looked back since.”

Review: Royal Lochnagar, 12-year

January 5th, 2012 by Darin

The Royal Lochnagar 12-year is a memorable whisky for one specific reason: it has one of the most alarmingly intense aromas I’ve ever found—and from a Highland, no less. But all things in time.

The distillers package this one aptly—regal, indigo labeling that pays homage to old typesetting aesthetics.

The Lochnagar took to my tumbler readily—it colors itself a creamy blonde and wears a round, amber belly. It’s got ribs like yellow fingers.

As I mentioned, the nose is alarmingly phenolic. In fact, I found it difficult to negotiate with in regards to the other aromas it hides. Just so, this was a delightful challenge, almost an old-world calling out in the increasingly soft-nosed environment of other distilleries catering to single-malt’s ever-rising popularity. The remainder of the aroma hints at bananas—as comical as that image is—and the smell of young leather. It keeps vanilla secrets and suggestions of strawberries and cognac. After a while, the snap of the oaken ghosts steeped from the aging casks become difficult not to notice.

Fig. 1: The Lochnagar Distillery

On the tongue, the Lochnagar is smooth, almost flat. This malt is quiet and creamy—after a while, it awakens to bitters and allspice.

The finish is evenly paced—short for a Highland, meaty, earthen, and warm.

I found only dry sugars for an aftertaste.

On a scale of 1-5, I rate the Royal Lochnagar 12-year a 3. Well done for a 12, recalcitrant yet engaging, but for the fight it offers, a little flat. It is, however, a great value for the money.

Fun facts: The “‘Royal’ prefix came after a visit and tasting in 1848 by Queen Victoria (who was said to be partial to whisky) and Prince Albert, who were staying at nearby Balmoral” (Collins Pocket Reference: Whisky, 198).

Review: Strathisla 12-year

July 13th, 2011 by Darin

The packaging on the bottle announces the Strathisla (“Strath-ee-lah”) [Scotch Pronunciations] as a “Single Highland Malt.” Only, it’s not. The distillery is in Keith, Banffshire. It couldn’t be deeper in Speyside country if it wanted to be. I, however, took my notes under the impression that it was a Highland, so I’ll leave my final commentary intact.

The Strathisla 12 is packaged like a Highland: its bottle is green and darkly Spartan—Speysides tend to be bottled in clear glass, and their distilleries pay a great deal of attention to label-design. So this disguise only furthered the marketing identity-crisis. In a tumbler, though, the Strathisla wore its midtones smartly: russet-that-would-be-orange. It did, however, blush its age a bit with wheatish, gold legs and highlights.

The nose is dusty, earthy, and unprepossessive. I found its dominant aromas mildy syrupy with suggestions of sweet garlic.* Beneath these lurks a slightly yeasty odor—a logical gestalt, I think, given the combination of its primary scents.

The Strathisla is light on the tongue, citric. Zesty, even. It offers an active, slow finish** that intensifies into a slow, malty aftertaste—toffeed and hot.

On a scale of 1-5, I rate the Strathisla 12-year a 4, which I think is no small feat for something so relatively young.

*This should have been my first clue.
**And this, my second.

In the interest of comprehensive reviewing, here’s what other reviewers have said:
(No, I don’t read these before I write mine)

Collins Pocket Reference: Whisky:

“A big, robust whisky which is full-flavoured and fruity, with a nutty, sherried sweetness” (207). “Taste Rating: 4″

Dave Broom, Whisky Magazine:

[Nose] “Fragrant with citrus (orange peel), flowers (freesia), spice, and a hint of cream-filled choux pastry. Juicy! Water pulls out more weighty malty notes. [Palate] Lovely mid-weight malt that’s softer than the nose initially suggests. Great momentum in the mouth with cranachan, soft baked fruits, fruit cake, syrup, apricot and malt. It dances on the tongue. [Finish] Bursts into life.”

Review: Glenmorangie 12-year Burgundy Wood Finish

June 17th, 2011 by Darin

I’m a fan of the Glenmorangie line—most of the malts the distillery offers are quintessentially Highland. That is, an only slightly phenolic, subtly accentuated nose, a midplace between sweet and dry on the tongue, and an finish with an average pace. The Burgundy Wood Finish, however, didn’t quite fit this bill. It seems to have adopted too many of the characteristics ghosted into its casks by the wine that preceded it there. At best, it’s a mawkish Speyside—at worst, it’s bad brandy or cognac. Now, this isn’t to say that I didn’t like the Burgundy Wood, just that it misses the mark in comparison to the rest of the Glenmorangie Line.

My dram offered a brilliant umber-orange hue—a little more yellowed than some other Highlands. However, its colors were solid and mature—even throughout, without the highlighted legs of younger malts.

The nose is very active—mildly phenolic (more than most Highlands) yet sour. I didn’t find a lot of complexity here: the most dominant aroma invoked sugared grapes. An altogether pleasant nose.

On the tongue, this whisky is fruity, sweet, and delicate—just as any good brandy or cognac would be. However, like the whisky it is (or is supposed to be), it finishes steeply. I found only subtle, lingering vanilla for an aftertaste.

On a scale of 1-5, I rate the Glenmorangie 12-year Burgundy Wood Finish a 3.5. Well crafted, but I need a little more whisky in my whisky.

The distillery’s tasting notes

Colour: rich dark golden brown

Aroma: honeycomb, milk chocolate, spearmint and a hint of coffee—revealing a more intense aroma of ripe fruits with the addition of water

Taste: deeply fruity taste of raspberries, bananas and figs—with a rich sweet overtone

Aftertaste: tingly and mouth-watering

Review: Tambowie

June 2nd, 2011 by Darin

Fig. 1: Tambowie, 8-year. Image:

The Tambowie (if the year isn’t supplied, then it’s an 8) is obviously young—one glimpse at its transparent bottle (a bad choice, in my opinion, but most Lowland whiskies follow this trend) exposes its pale, thin, flavescent hue. The packaging is not memorable, but it’s not ostentatious either.

The Tambowie’s nose is phenolic. It musters the aroma of cherry, and pleasantly sour pumpkin/melon do the best they can to mask the scent of the whisky’s age: the unavoidable sharpness.

On the tongue, my dram was only mildly active, and its tastes really seemed more like ideas about what, one day, it might become: primarily butterscotch and vanilla. Its age tastes piney, a bit like maple, if I’m going to be kind.

The Tambowie offers a steep, hot finish, which it follows with an inoffensive, woody aftertaste.

On a scale of 1-5, I rate the Tambowie a 3. That’s higher than I would normally rate such a young whisky, but I think this one demonstrates potential, which is sometimes rare in the inexpensive, not-fully-aged world of whiskies.

Also, it’s a Lowland, so we have to be gentle.

Review: Highland Park 18-year

May 13th, 2011 by Darin

The Highland Park 18-year is among the darker whiskies I’ve seen. Typically, Highland malts tend toward very bright, if noticeably reddish, hues; the Highland Park, however, is unusually brown, dark, and burnished–it wears its Highland red in its quite-robust shadows.

The nose is only mildly phenolic, and its noticeably applish, subtly sweet-pear aromas offer a very smooth aromatic setup for this whisky’s delicate brandy-esque perfume. The Highland Park’s bouquet is, overall, quite smooth and very inviting.

My dram was surprisingly sweet and warm—its alcohol gently active on the tongue. It tastes most readily—and quite singly—of caramel. Without any fancy complications, this whisky moves right into its finish: unassuming, moderately paced between, say, the severity of the Dalwhinnie and the sluggishness of the Springbank. The primary, caramelized taste decays in shelves of floral candy: lavender, hazelnut.

The Highland Park does not package a lingering aftertaste; it is simply confidently warm—the obviously mature farewell singular to an 18-year malt.

On a scale of 1-5, I rate the Highland Park 18-year a 5.

Fun facts about Highland Park: (from the Collins Pocket Whisky Reference)

“Highland Park’s origins are linked with an illegal bothy which previously occupied the site. Its owner was one of whisky’s most colourful characters, Magnus Eunson. A United Presbyterian church elder by day and smuggler by night, his piety did not prevent his using the church pulpit as a handy hiding place for his illicit distillations” (147).

Review: Caol Ila 18-year

April 20th, 2011 by Darin

The Caol Ila 18-year is one of the prettiest whiskies I’ve seen. I mean, they’re all attractive in their own ways, but this one is a nice, burnished orange—an overexposed daguerreotype, perhaps, oxidized into a hue that complements is packaging very well.

The Caol Ila takes a while to awaken in the glass, but when it does, it honors its Islay roots: simultaneously briny and dry, offering the gentle burn of clean salts and the slight aromas of dill and old paper.

On the tongue, this whisky is very complex. Digging through the peat, which is accented by reminiscences of sour apple and ripened pear, I found dark, roasted-almond flavors that went very well with this malt’s smokey, extroverted facade. It is (uncharacteristic for an Islay) a bit dry, resulting in latent suggestions of cocoa.

Its semi-bitter aftertaste segues into a long finish, and its final gesture leaves one thinking of (if not actively craving) strong toffee.

On a scale of 1-5, I rate the Caol Ila 18 a 5. I have no complaints about this malt and (clearly) only my compliments to give it.

Review: Bunnahabhain 12 year

April 8th, 2011 by Darin

I have to admit, I bought the Bunnahabhain (Bu-na-ha-ven) because I was shopping on a budget. It was my turn to bring some single-malt to the weekly gaming-and-whisky gang, and I didn’t want to grab one of the usual suspects. I hadn’t heard any of my sipping pals mention having had this one, so I figured the new factor would win them over, even if the malt’s character didn’t. Prior to taking them the bottle, though, I filled one of my nosing glasses and had a go by myself. Turns out, it’s quite a good whisky, but it’s the most uncharacteristic Islay I’ve ever tried (Islay malts, if you don’t already know, are the whiskies of choice for those who like it peaty).

The Bunnahabhain cuts a russet, bronze figure. Strangely, the drink’s highlights seem somehow paler than they should be, and it’s midtones are conversely weird-dark. The whisky itself is thick and viscous.

I came into the aroma with expectations—the bottle relates a poignant tale about Islay sailors and their families, so I expected some nautical salts. What I found was certainly briney. Hot and dusty, this nose goes straight for the lungs, then dissipates into soft maple.

On the tongue, the Bunnahabhain is foggy and light. Its primary flavors invoke aniseed (slightly, I should add) and sweet apple. Behind these, I picked up a vegetal, seaweedy complement. This Islay is only lightly peated; however, it is simultaneously complex and unassuming.

The finish, though not particularly long itself, takes a while to pinpoint. At length, I decided that it reminded me most of the aroma of Cavendish, which, I’ll admit, is odd, given that we’re discussing an aftertaste. It’s a very nasal denouement–one of the most complex and enjoyable I’ve had in a while.

On a scale of 1-5, I rate the Bunnahabhain 12 a 4. With a little more verve on the tongue, it could have easily scored perfectly. The distillery does offer a 34-year, though, which I am sure steps up in exactly this regard.

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