A Pair of Indy Strathmills

Strathmill isn’t a name you see on the single malt market very often.

Another Diageo-owned blending malt, you’ll find this one in the popular J&B blended Scotch. Known for a delicate flavoured distillate, I’m hoping these two independent bottlings will showcase the distillery character without too much cask influence.

Cadenhead Strathmill 1995

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 14.28.46Distillery: Strathmill
Bottled: 2014, Distilled: 1995
Age: 18 years old
ABV: 54.4%
Cask: Bourbon Hogshead
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Fiery pepper but fruity – peach fizz sweets, unpasteurised yoghurt, strawberry ice cream, kaffir lime leaves, sage, cinnamon and caramel. A whiff of aromatic permanent marker pen.

Palate: Simple sweet malt toffee, barley malt, vanilla. Water reveals a touch of banana. Smooth to start, becoming spicy and numbing with Szechuan pepper, cinnammon, and cloves.

Finish: Tingly with allspice, ginger root and cardamom.

This is a pretty solid old-school style Speyside hoggy malt.

Sweet shop notes with esters and fruit. It’s quite unbalanced and fiery, but a great nose on it. I’d say the cask was a tad too active here with the palate starting off well and gradually cranking up the spices further than I’d like on an unpeated malt.

It’s a good whisky overall, but I wouldn’t buy it.

WhiskyBroker Strathmill 1990

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 14.27.59Distillery: Strathmill
Bottled: 2012, Distilled: 1990
Age: 22 years old
ABV: 51.9%
Cask: Refill Bourbon Hogshead
More Info: WhiskyBase

This is four years older than the Cadenhead’s bottling, but quite a bit paler. I’m hoping the refill cask here has been kinder to the spirit.

Nose: Green fruit – apples, kiwis, limes. Spicy crème brûlée, salted fudge, lavender honey, cloudy cider, and barley grass. Some green chillies too.

Palate: Buttery fudge, cinder toffee, cheap cola, rum-raisin ice cream, sweet malt, and another rising, numbing pepper note that comes to dominate the palate.

Finish: The fire calms down to leave Bourbon barrel spices – cinnamon, sweetened hazelnuts, creamy oak.

A lot in common with the Cadenhead – fruity Speyside character coming through, but different notes and more depth of flavour and complexity. It still has that rising spice, but it’s not as harsh as the 18 and dies down to reveal more flavours on the finish.

Thanks to Andy for this sample!

Glen Elgin 1995 (Cadenhead)

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 21.01.26Distillery: Glen Elgin
Bottled: 2015, Distilled: 1995
ABV: 55.6%
Cask: Bourbon
Bottler: WM Cadenhead
More Info: WhiskyBase

Glen Elgin isn’t a name you hear often in single malt land. It tends to all go into blended whisky. As a relative unknown, you can get these single (or in this case double) cask bottlings at great prices and the liquid is very nice indeed.

Nose: Buttery and herbal, with wood and fruit: oranges, raspberries, blackberries, and limes. Minty toothpaste, wood varnish, deodorant spray and acrylic paint.

Palate: Creamy Easter egg chocolate. Malty toffee. Mint ice cream, menthol, cherries, gooseberries and cinnamon.

Finish: Long and tangy with citrus leaves and bourbon spice.

This is a glorious bourbon cask treat.

I bought a bottle to split with Andy and it really hasn’t disappointed. There’s still some available on Cadenheads at the time of writing so bag a bottle if delicious bourbon cask Scotch is your thing.

Still on Cadenheads for £63.10 per bottle.

Three Old Dusty Cadenhead Caol Ilas

Very much following in the footsteps of Ben Cops, here’s three old and delicious Caol Ila bottlings from WM Cadenhead.

I’ve been saving the 30 year old for my 30th birthday and now that the bottle’s open it’s time to revisit last year’s 29 year old and get stuck into a taster of this year’s 31 year old release (again, thank you to Mr Cops for this!).

All three are full term Bourbon cask matured and great examples of how lovely Caol Ila can be when well-aged.

Caol Ila 29

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 16.08.10Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottled: 2013, Distilled: 1984
ABV: 55.5%
Cask: Bourbon Hogshead
Bottler: WM Cadenhead
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Sweet smoke, cloudy apple juice, paprika, Easter Egg chocolate, damp wood, tangerine and fresh honeydew melon.

Palate: Very rich and oily. Bitter oranges, poached pears, more cloudy apple juice, with a gentle woody smoke rising through the fruit.

Finish: Becomes waxy and spicy, with a Brazil nut undertone. Extraordinarily long and satisfying. Like a deep-muscle massage for your mind. It unlocks something in the brain that leads to fits of grinning, like some kind of serene whisky Nirvana.

Verdict: I love this whisky so much. A really active cask (I think a first fill) has given this a lot of punchy flavour. The citrus smoke element of Caol Ila has moved from lemon notes in the younger bottlings to orange and melon flavours. Utterly glorious.

 

Caol Ila 30

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 16.08.24Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottled: 2014, Distilled: 1984
ABV: 56.2%
Cask: Bourbon Hogshead
Bottler: WM Cadenhead
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Fragrant lime skin, earthy moss, sawdust, wood lacquer, sherbet, vanilla, orange pith, candy brittle.

Palate: Gloriously sweet shopp-y. Salty toffee, liqourice torpedos and sour zingy sherbet with a whole lot of fruit on the side – melon rind, guava, strawberries and tangerines. After the fruit there’s drying sweet tobacco leaf and a little Cadbury’s Chocolate Buttons.

Finish: Oak and black pepper with wafts of soft wood smoke and black tea. That Brazil nut taste is there again, too.

Verdict: Different to the 29. Still fruity and smoky but there’s none of that cloudy apple juice or pickle juice character. Still wonderfully balanced between the fruit and zesty smoke. Elegant, juicy, delicious.

 

Caol Ila 31

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 08.55.02Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottled: 2015, Distilled: 1984
ABV: 54.3%
Cask: Bourbon Hogshead
Bottler: WM Cadenhead
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Spiced custard, wax crayons, marker pens, salty dust, marmalade, candied lemon and lime.

Palate: Zingy, sour and oaky with bitter pepper and more fresh citrus. Sherbet, chalky refresher sweets, green apples and redcurrants.

Finish: Mellows after the peppery bite of the palate leaving a long and lingering taste of ripe pears and smooth, buttery oak.

Verdict: I think this one’s got a lot more tanin from the wood but it settles down nicely to a lovely and unusual finish. The 29 and 30 had more going on in the middle but this is all about the long end.

Summary

Three fabulous whiskies here – really showing off both what Caol Ila can do over time, and what good cask selection you see from WM Cadenhead.

For me, the winner’s got to be the 29 – that juicy, punchy, fruity quality is rowdy compared to the more elegant dust of the 30 and 31 but it absolutely charms my palate.

The lesson? Taste old Caol Ila as often as you can – the chances are that you’ll be delighted.

Littlemill 22 (Cadenhead Small Batch)

caol_il_29Distillery: Littlemill
Bottled: 2014, Distilled: 1992
ABV: 53.7%
Cask: Bourbon
Bottler: WM Cadenhead
More Info: WhiskyBase

Yet another interesting bottle from Cadenhead’s! This has been on the shelf a while now but it felt like time to crack it open.

Nose: Waxy with sweet sawdust and wood resin, basil in butter, citrus flowers, icing sugar, and squeezed clementines.

Palate: Oily. Very oily. Fruit and spice – baked apple, elderflower, fresh bilberries leading to cloves and black pepper.

Finish: Long with a warming cinnamon burn and creamy oak.

Big! Fruity and spicy, but without a hint of sherry. Really very moreish and pleasant.

Arbdeg 1994 (Cadenhead’s)

Distillery: Ardbeg
Bottled: 2007, Distilled: 1994
Age: 13 years old
Bottler: Cadenhead’s
Bottles: 318
ABV: 58.4%
Cask: Bourbon Hogshead
More Info: WhiskyBase

Here’s a little treat from Cadenhead’s… A peaty teenager from Islay. The 1994 vintage Ardbeg, aged for 13 years in a Bourbon barrel and bottled at cask strength.

Noteworthy because it was distilled while the distillery was owned by Hiram Walker. Glenmorangie bought Ardbeg in 1997, and their standard releases (except for Ardbeg 10) are typically now released without an age statement. Old Ardbeg tends to sell for a premium, so it’s nice to a) try spirit older than 10 years, and b) have a go with a bottling from the old regime.

Nose: Coal, rock dust, rubber, dense oily smoke, sticking plasters, dried salt, pine resin.

Palate: Oily malt biscuit, brine, swiftly evolves into dry smoke, tea, liquorice, grapefruit, cloves, and pepper. Little floral/herbal notes of violet and lavender.

Finish: Citrus, Brazil nuts, and dry smoke.

I do like the modern Ardbeg expressions, but this is different – very mineral-rich, and more savoury and drying than the 10 year old, with subtle nuances (I think cask strength probably helps here…). I also reckon the lack of wine-cask means more flavour’s drawn from the barley and the oak.

I’m not sure if the Bourbon cask was a first-fill or not but I don’t get the typical whiff of vanilla, or the sweet spice. So I’m tempted to suggest the flavour comes from good spirit, good distillation, and good oak.

“As it should,” the purists might say…

Just for contrast, here’s my notes for Ardbeg 10…

Nose: Barley grass, definitely vanilla, coal tar smoke in evidence, tarred-rope and maritime/fish notes.

Palate: Sweet vanilla, tangy smoke, citrus fruits, cloves. Not as drying as the older Ardbeg.

Finish: Peppery, with a charred oak flavour and salted cashews.

It’s good, of course – Ardbeg 10 is one of those Islay staple drams that’s consistently good quality. I think there’s a first-fill Bourbon influence  – I get less barley flavour and more vanilla sugar. Also, the smoke is still coal-tar in nature but it’s less pronounced, and not as drying and the mineral notes are more in evidence as maritime/coastal scents.

So, is older Ardbeg better than modern Ardbeg? I think “better” is the wrong word…

It’s probably more in keeping with an older style of whisky production, which definitely gives it a big appeal. Modern whisky is often accused of being too heavily groomed and doctored to fit certain profiles that keep the market researchers happy.

Either way, it’s a pleasure to drink both of them. And I’ll be keeping an eye out for more old Ardbeg, provided it isn’t attached to a daft price tag.

I got my Ardbeg 1994 sample on WhiskySample.nl, but they’re all gone now. Keep an eye out on auction sites for older Ardbeg – you might get lucky with a sane price.

Caol Ila 29

caol_il_29

Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottled: 2013, Distilled: 1984
ABV: 55.5%
Cask: Bourbon
Bottler: WM Cadenhead
More Info: WhiskyBase

Here’s one of those bottles that only comes around every once in a while.

I first tried this Small Batch bottling from WM Cadenhead’s at a whisky tasting with Manchester Whisky Club. It was the last dram of the night and it completely shamed the rest of the line-up (which wasn’t shabby by any means).

With my 29th birthday coming up, I couldn’t resist and bagged myself one of the last remaining bottles whereupon it sat on my shelf until I cracked it open in September. Now it’s down to the very last dram, I feel I need to mark its passing with a well-deserved closer inspection.

Caol Ila is something of a power-house distillery in an industrial-looking installation, which would be downright ugly if not for the incredible view over the Sound of Islay (where Caol Ila takes its name) towards the Paps of Jura, just a few miles away.

Their output is a heck of a lot bigger than every other distillery on Islay, and most of the spirit it produces will end up in Diageo’s blended whiskies. The malt itself is absolutely top-notch, though, and stands up very well by itself as a distillate. Even at very young ages, it’s remarkably well-made stuff.

Diageo certainly thought so in the seventies when they rebuilt the distillery to boost its output and by the eighties, with Caol Ila still going strong, they decided to mothball and eventually demolish the now infamous distillery at Port Ellen.

Having been lucky enough to try a couple of different official and indy bottlings of Port Ellen, I have to say that the flavour profile has a lot in common with Caol Ila. I don’t get the chamois leather with the latter, but there’s plenty of lemon sherbet, damp wood, sea shells and sea-spray.

In some ways, I see Caol Ila as the poor-man’s Port Ellen. No disservice intended there, but when an official bottling can set you back two-grand you’ve got to have a fat wallet to stand any chance of ever owning any.

Anyway, I digress. This whisky waited twenty-nine years in a barrel so I should do the polite thing and do some tasting…

Nose: The typical candied lemon and smoky peat you get with younger Caol Ila has really calmed down and grown up here. The volume of the music at the party’s been set to a mature, grown-up level. You can hear the conversation in the room now. I get sweet smoke, cloudy apple juice, paprika, Easter Egg chocolate, damp wood, tangerine and fresh honeydew melon.

Palate: Very rich and oily. Bitter oranges, poached pears, more cloudy apple juice, with a gentle woody smoke rising through the fruit.

Finish:Becomes waxy and spicy, with a Brazil nut undertone. Extraordinarily long and satisfying. Like a deep-muscle massage for your mind. It unlocks something in the brain that leads to fits of grinning, like some kind of serene whisky Nirvana*.

Wow… Wow.

Cadenhead are consistently bottling some excellent casks, with the Small Batch series being particularly tasty. This is a truly stunning bottling, at a very respectable price indeed.

Diageo have just released an official bottling of 30-year-old Caol Ila, which retails around £400 plus. This 29-year-old bottling was about a quarter of that price (sadly all gone now), and Cadenhead have a 30-year-old available (in limited numbers) in their Authentic range.

I’m not sure how much difference one year makes to the flavour profile of Caol Ila, but I’d guess it’ll be showing a lot of the same qualities. And with the Cadenhead bottling being so tasty at 29, I’m sure you can guess which bottling I’ll be drinking on my next birthday…

I will sincerely grieve the passing of this whisky, it’s absolutely fucking glorious. If you get chance to try some old Caol Ila, don’t pass it up. This stuff doesn’t just age with grace, this whisky is Stacey’s Mom – and my gosh, has she got it going on…

 

* The Buddhist kind, not the Seattle grunge group that Dave Grohl was stuck in before he started making proper music.